By Delon Schurtz
Southern Alberta Newspapers
It could have been former MLA Gary Bikman celebrating a Wildrose win Tuesday in Cardston-Taber Warner, but after jumping ship in December to join the governing PCs, it was Grant Hunter who raised his arms in victory.
Hunter defeated his nearest rival, PC candidate Brian Brewin, by only 774 votes. But Hunter took the lead from the first poll and rarely let up, although Brewin was nipping dangerously close at his heels all night and even took the lead a couple of times, albeit briefly.
“I am absolutely awestruck,” Hunter said from his parents’ home in Cardston, where he celebrated his victory with friends and family, including a new grandchild.
Hunter compared the race to the Bible story of David and Goliath, and even though the PCs outspent his team by four to one, his team worked hard and pulled off a victory.
It’s a victory Bikman concedes would have been his had he remained with the party, but crossing the floor proved to be his undoing, along with several other Wildrose MLAs who crossed with former leader Danielle Smith.
“Anti-PC sentiment remains strong in the area and the strong Wildrose voice was heard once again,” Bikman said.
“I don’t regret crossing, per se,” Bikman added, noting he and fellow members thought they were doing the right thing, given the promises they received from the government and the “behind-the-scenes problems” of the Wildrose Party.
Bikman, who congratulated Hunter on his successful campaign, pointed out he warned former premier Jim Prentice to keep his promise and not to hold an election this year, but wait until the spring of 2016. Obviously Prentice didn’t listen and Albertans protested.
Brewin said Wildrose supporters were clearly upset when Bikman and other MLAs crossed the floor, and some even told him they were thinking of switching their vote in protest. But that’s not why Wildrose didn’t do better provincially.
“We lost this election ‘cause the conservatives were split,” Hunter suggested. “We need to re-unite the right.” If it doesn’t happen, the NDP could remain in power for years, which, Hunter said, would not be good for Alberta. “I don’t think an NDP government is going to serve our province well.”
Although a distant third, NDP candidate Aaron Haugen said he’s happy with his election results, in which he collected 2,407 votes and improved on his results from 2012 when he only collected 467 votes. “I can’t be disappointed with this,” he said. “I far surpassed my expectations.”
The overall NDP victory was a soothing ointment, and he celebrated with the rest of his party, which will form a majority government.
“I think people have taken a fresh look at the NDP.” Haugen, who was a student at Lethbridge College before running for the NDP, says he’ll refocus on his education and then perhaps decide whether to run again. “We’ll see what happens in four years.”