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Election night a bittersweet evening of laughter, tears and disappointment

It was a bittersweet evening for St. Albert NDP MLA Marie Renaud Tuesday night as she held onto her seat but watched her colleagues fall to UCP challengers across the province.

Vote breakdown (unofficial)

St. Albert:
Voter turnout: 71%

NDP: 11,799
UCP: 10,172
Alberta Party: 2,710
Liberal Party: 306
Green Party: 227
Alberta Independence Party: 164
Alberta Advantage Party: 131

Morinville-St. Albert:
Voter turnout: 68%
UCP: 11,998
NDP: 7,388
Alberta Party: 3,556
Green Party: 188
Alberta Independence Party: 183
Alberta Advantage Party: 171

It was a bittersweet evening for St. Albert NDP MLA Marie Renaud Tuesday night as she held onto her seat but watched her colleagues fall to UCP challengers across the province.

Renaud held the St. Albert riding through an election that saw her party lose more than half its seats in the legislature. Unofficial results from Elections Alberta counted more than 900,000 votes for the UCP – 55.2 per cent of the vote – while the NDP trailed throughout the night.

Addressing a crowd of nearly 100 supporters at the Celtic Knot Tuesday night, Renaud shed tears over her party’s loss but vowed to never stop fighting.

“Tonight is a tough night, but you know what we do? We never give up, ever,” she said.

“Every family that’s worried about what’s coming and every child that’s worried about joining a GSA, we will never ever stop fighting. Everybody has little setbacks in life but we get stronger and we fight harder and we never ever, ever, ever stop.”

Renaud won St. Albert with 11,799 votes (or 46.3 per cent). UCP candidate Jeff Wedman placed second with 10,172 votes (or 39.9 per cent) and Alberta Party candidate Barry Bailey earned 10.6 per cent of the vote, or 2,710 votes.

Some 25,509 people cast their votes in the St. Albert riding – a voter turnout of 71 per cent. In Morinville-St. Albert, 23,484 voters represented 68% turnout.

Renaud’s local campaign drew out 140 volunteers, with 130 people hitting the pavement on her behalf in the final hours of the campaign. They distributed more than double the lawn signs and fundraised more than double the amount they did in 2015.

Friends, family members and volunteers cheered Renaud as she entered the Celtic Knot, but the moment was still a sad one for NDP supporters facing four years as the official opposition.

An emotional Renaud said she is concerned about support for LGBTQ youth and losing the momentum her party has made over the past four years on social issues, including support for persons with disabilities.

Nicole Imgrund, a counsellor at Rivers Edge Counseling, came out to support Renaud after the MLA helped champion legislation regulating the counselling profession, a goal Imgrund had been working toward for over a decade.

Imgrund said she was not surprised to see Renaud returned to her seat by the people of St. Albert.

“She’s so passionate and so dedicated to her constituents and when she learned how important the legislation we were looking for was, she was so supportive of me as a constituent and was with me every step of the way,” Imgrund said.

“I know that she does that for everybody in her riding and in such a personal way.”

Matthew Lamberts came out to celebrate Renaud’s success Tuesday as well. Lamberts volunteered on Morinville-St. Albert NDP candidate Natalie Birnie’s campaign but Renaud was the one who got him involved with the NDP.

Lamberts said he was thankful to see Renaud get re-elected and wasn’t upset with the overall outcome of the election.

“The way I hear it, people voted, and as far as I’m concerned, that makes me happy,” Lamberts said.

“There is still another election and we can try again in four years.”

Jeff Wedman

What started out as a long and hard campaign for St. Albert UCP candidate Jeff Wedman ended in disappointment.

“It’s disappointing, it’s six months of your life into something and it doesn’t work out,” Wedman said Tuesday night at Central Social Hall.

The room was mostly silent throughout the evening as political leaders, supporters and volunteers watched the television intently for election results. As poll numbers trickled in, the gap in votes between Renaud and him slowly widened.

By 10 p.m., Wedman had accepted defeat.

Shaking the hands of around 60 people who came to show their support, Wedman said he was thankful for each of them.

“We are so proud of you guys. I’m proud of the hours that everybody put in,” he said.

“We ran a clean campaign, we ran a positive campaign.”

Wedman, a police officer with Edmonton Police Services, said he wasn’t sure whether or not he would run again. Still absorbing the news of his defeat, he said he would be taking a few days to process the election.

Michael Cooper, Edmonton-St. Albert’s Conservative MP, said the results were disappointing.

“Jeff has run a tremendous campaign. He’s worked extremely hard,” he said.

“I think he would have been an excellent representative for our St. Albert constituency.”

Campaign volunteer and supporter Trevor Armstrong said one of the highlights for him over the past month was watching Wedman speak with individuals at the doors.

Despite the polarized tone of this election, with residents saying they either loved or hated the UCP, Wedman’s behaviour left a lasting impression on him.

“Just watching him work with the people and just listen,” he said. “People were very emotional.”

Heather Grundberg said she decided to volunteer for Wedman’s campaign because of his character and personality. She had gotten to know him through a missions trip organized by the St. Albert Evangelical Lutheran Church in 2016.

The small team of church volunteers helped construct buildings for two weeks in Mexico. She said watching him interact compassionately with children and young adults, and the leadership skills he demonstrated, made her want to step forward and help.

“Win or lose, it’s been an interesting experience for me,” she said before the results were announced. It was her first time volunteering on a campaign.

Wedman said despite his loss he appreciated getting to meet and hear the perspectives of residents. Over the past six months, he knocked on roughly 10,000 doors in St. Albert. Now, he plans to return to work with EPS.

He said he’ll spend the next couple weeks sending out his appreciation for his volunteers.

“I will be taking some time to reflect. I thank so many of the volunteers, I owe them so much.”

Alberta Party spirits dampened, not dashed

What started off looking like a fiesta at a tequila bar for two local Alberta Party candidates ended up more akin to a fun wake for their once-promising campaigns.

Barry Bailey and Neil Korotash celebrated their election losses Tuesday at Cerdo Tacos + Tequila on Perron Street, a cozy place bedecked for the eve with logoed balloons and banners. The two were all smiles as they were surrounded by dozens of family, friends, supporters and their many volunteers. While the collective spirits might have been dampened as polls reported in without any Alberta Party seats won, the two candidates remained in good form, encouraged by the overall estimated 11 per cent of the popular vote.

They talked of their sense of pride in bringing forward serious issues to voters with a moderate centrist philosophy while keeping things clean and avoiding the schoolyard politics that seemed to overshadow much of the last four weeks.

“It has been a brand new experience. It was wild. We had a lot of fun. We kept it light and I’m really proud of our campaign team. We worked hard. We were positive all the way through. We didn't get into some of the nastiness that characterized this election,” Korotash, who ran for St. Albert, said.

The Morinville High School teacher and former two-term St. Albert city councillor expressed much concern for the new state of provincial politics. This campaign, he explained, showed how “divisive and polarizing” things have become between the left and the right political wings.

“You're either on one side or the other. We've only got two parties that have seats elected in the legislature right now based on the results. I don't think that's where most Albertans are at. I think most Albertans are moderate. They’re fiscally conservative, socially responsible. Unfortunately, this election became more about fear and more about what you didn't want than what you did want.”

Bailey, the producer behind Seven Music Fest and candidate for Morinville-St. Albert, echoed those sentiments. He said the Alberta Party tried to find the middle ground for people looking for moderation but people were frightened on both sides and it showed. Still, he knows he’ll still be able to sleep at night with “zero regrets.”

“We ran a really great campaign with 87 excellent candidates right across the province. It was the kind of campaign that we were all proud of. We weren't finger-pointing. We weren't running down the other candidates. We were talking about ideas and our platform and trying to bring a little civility back into politics. Maybe in this day and age, that's not the right tactic but I stand by it. I wouldn't run any other kind of campaign,” he said.

Both candidates offered concession speeches before 10 p.m. Tuesday, thanking their families and their volunteers profusely, and adding how humbled they were to receive such impressive support.

Bailey suggested that running for office could also be a new exercise regime. “I lost 10 pounds,” he said.

Neither of the two ruled out returning for the next provincial election.

“I’m still very energized and optimistic about the future for the Alberta Party,” Bailey continued. “I mean, it's only 10 years old. Politics is a long game. By no means are we going to lay down and go away.”

Indeed, looking around the restaurant and seeing several familiar faces from various levels of government, the gathering suggested the party has established a foothold.

Rick Sloan, Korotash’s constituency association president, said “the big middle” has a lot of hope for the future. The groundswell of public opinion was all about jobs and pipelines. With the Alberta Party keeping its eyes on the long game for its own success, the economy was one of its main focuses now and will likely be there again in four years. That doesn’t mean it will lose track of other important issues on the platform.

“When you talk to people a little bit more, what you find is they're interested in the longer-term future. The issue of public debt and the potential for risk around healthcare and around education was on the back of people's minds as well. The big issue, because everybody thought it was top of mind, would be, ‘What about the economy? What about jobs in the pipeline?’ Beyond that, there is a concern about how the quality of life in our public services is going to pan out,” he said.

“I think we're in the middle around a range of issues that are focused on what's pragmatic, not what's ideological.”

Morinville-St. Albert a UCP stronghold

Over at Dale Nally’s campaign party in Morinville, there didn’t appear to be much concern from supporters about their candidate’s future. Most felt confident the first-time candidate for the newly created riding of Morinville-St. Albert would be heading to the legislature. Instead, most of the attention was on races across the province as the UCP continued to gain in seats throughout the night.

Curtis Loblick, who has known Nally for seven years, described his friend as outgoing, a great conversationalist and dependable. He said Nally likes to spend time with his kids and is known as a caring individual.

At first, he didn’t really see Nally as a politician, but as he continued to think about it, he said it made a lot of sense.

“I can really see him taking a role like this,” Loblick said. “I can see him taking a role like this as a first step, becoming an MLA and I can see him going further. I think he has the personality and the smarts to even take that further.”

Out on the doorsteps and before the polls closed, most Nally supporters told the Gazette jobs and the economy were the biggest issues for them this election.

Morinville resident Lawrence Lethe said in 2015, he voted NDP but decided to change his vote this time around to support the UCP.

“I didn’t realize I was voting for Greenpeace, for the Green Party,” he said. “(Rachel Notley) tried to fight for (pipelines) in the last half (of her term) but it was long too late. I was disgusted (with the NDP).”

St. Albert resident Sue Arbez said she simply wanted a change and felt the NDP was spending too much money. While she supported the UCP as a whole, she mentioned she had met Nally and was impressed with how he carried himself.

Nally arrived later in the evening to friends and family cheering at his victory. He said he was overwhelmed by the level of support.

“It’s just very humbling,” he told the Gazette. “It was just that message of jobs, the economy and the pipeline. People really responded to our strategy to bring jobs back to Alberta. That’s really what it was about. I knocked on over 10,000 doorsteps and I can tell you there was real frustration in this riding about the problem that we have with jobs right now.”

With 92 out of 94 polls reported in as of Wednesday morning, Nally snagged 51.1 per cent of the vote or 11,998. His closest rival was NDP Natalie Birnie who secured a respectable 31.5 per cent or 7,388 votes. Neil Korotash of the Alberta Party took 15.1 per cent or 3,556 votes.

The rookie soon-to-be Member of the Legislative Assembly will be joining a UCP majority government with premier-designate Jason Kenney at the helm. However, the road to that majority victory was plagued with numerous controversies for the party on top of a negative campaign strategy by the NDP.

With the election so polarizing, Nally promised to do what he can to unite Albertans again.

“One of the things that Jason Kenney has said is he wants to bring stability and decorum back to politics,” he said.

“That’s something I really support. That resonates with me. I think that we have to reach across the aisle and we have to work with our partners. I can tell you I’ve already spoken to one of my opponents, (Alberta Party candidate) Neil Korotash, who was an absolute gentleman to give me a call. I could see myself working with him in the future, even though we’re on different parties.”

He added he owed a lot of his success on election night to his team.

Renaud and Nally will be sworn in April 30.

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