Saving for a rainy day

The tragedy of recent historic flooding in Southern Alberta has had a profound impact on us. As an Edmontonian who spends a good deal of time in Calgary, my heart goes out to those who have been affected. Encouragingly, the Alberta spirit lives on and Calgarians will demonstrate resiliency as the rest of us demonstrate high levels of empathy and community through giving in the ways that are available to us.  I have to give big kudos to Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Premier Alison Redford, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and all three levels of government who have been absolutely stellar in their response. These tragedies and struggles do emphasize the important role of government in acting as the vehicle through which we take collective action and in the value of the public service and public servants.

Recently, the Redford government announced that it would pledge an initial and immediate $1 Billion in aid with more to come. They also said that in doing this, the priority of a balanced budget would be set aside. They should be applauded for doing the right thing. We count on government (ie our neighbours) to be there for us on rainy days. But, talk of a balanced budget in this context made me think of where this money will come from, could come from and should come from. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a rainy day fund for such unforeseen instances?
Oh?! We do???
That’s right. We have the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund which sits at $16.8 billion. This is good. It could come in handy here, but with BMO estimating the costs of recovery in the $3-$5 billion range it would make a considerable dent in the fund. Unfortunately, the fund has not grown substantially in decades. The last systematic investment into the fund was made in 1987 and while the fund has generated $33.4 billion in total income, $34.6 billion has been transferred out of it largely to fund general programs. 
The Alberta fiscal formula is fundamentally flawed. Last year the government brought in $38.6 billion in revenues. Of that, $7.6 billion came from selling off non-renewable resources and $2.5 billion came from siphoning off investment earnings. At the same time they still spent $2.8 billion more than they raised which was drained out of another smaller more temporary rainy day fund, the Sustainability Fund. 
This all becomes a critical issue when you account for the fact that Alberta is the lowest taxed jurisdiction in Canada and could raise $11 billion more in taxes and maintain the lowest tax regime in the country. 
In simple terms, we are selling off the farm and dipping into our RRSPs in order to pay the bills just so we can take more time off work. 
As much as some would say debt is stealing from future generations, what we are doing amounts to grand larceny fraud against our great grandchildren. They should have a stake in both our non-renewable resources and our savings and in the meantime we should continue to contribute by paying our fair share. 
A fiscal prudent strategy would look like this. Instead of selling off non-renewable resources to fund programs we should treat it like a transfer from fixed assets to liquid but restricted assets. In other words, put all non-renewable resource revenue into the Heritage Fund. We should quit the vacation from responsibility and increase our taxes to the point where we collect the $11 billion more in revenue while maintaining our tax advantage. We should then quit using interest to fund general programs and instead use it for an endowment fund to help diversify our economy and train our people for the day the oil is gone. 
And when catastrophic flooding or fires occur again we sensibly and responsibly use the rainy day fund to pay for recovery… without guilt or regret because that is what we planned for all along. 

Cabinet Speculation

Hey, I’m awful at predictions, but why not speculate on cabinet postings.

Premier Alison Redford has discussed the possibility of some repositioning of portfolios and the possibility of a downsize to cabinet. It is quite likely that we will see 20 ministers in the cabinet including the Premier. As far as responsibility juggling, we could see something done that would help coordinate seniors housing options which is currently spread over three ministries: human services, health and seniors. We might also see a combination of Tourism, Parks and Recreation with Culture and Community Spirit as a way to downsize cabinet by combining some smaller ministries that are justifiably related.

But people tend to be more concerned about who will be in cabinet and so let’s get to that.

First off, let’s look at ministers that will definitely remain in cabinet:

  • Alison Redford (Calgary-Elbow) will be Premier.
  • Doug Horner (Spruce Grove-St. Albert) is competent and popular. He will remain in cabinet and he is likely to remain as deputy premier.
  • Dave Hancock (Edmonton-Whitemud) will surely continue in his role developing the new Human Services ministry.
  • Greg Weadick (Lethbridge-West) will remain in cabinet since Redford will need representation from South of Calgary.
  • Cal Dallas (Red Deer North) will likely be returned to cabinet to bring representation to central Alberta. He is also likely to be given the opportunity to continue building his new ministry of Intergovernmental, International and Aboriginal Relations.
  • Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Devon) has proven to be competent and should be returned to cabinet. It is quite likely that she may also be promoted. Energy might be a good fit for this oil patch area representative.
  • Verlyn Olson (Wetaskiwin-Camrose) is also quite competent and widely respected, so it is likely he will remain in cabinet and as justice minister.
  • Frank Oberle (Peace River) will bring some northern representation, as will
  • George Vanderburg (Whitecourt-Ste Anne) brings rural representation and could head up realignment of housing services for seniors.
  • Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary Greenway) proved himself as a junior minister and will help represent cultural diversity in the new government. Look for him to be promoted.

Secondly, which newcomers are likely to be added into the mix:

  • Bridget Pastoor (Lethbridge East) will be added to cabinet to bring as much southern representation as is possible.
  • Ken Hughes (Calgary-West) was handpicked by Redford to run and as former Alberta Health Services chair will surely be added to the inner circle.
  • Donna Kennedy-Glans (Calgary-Varsity) is also a friend of Redford’s going back to the Joe Clark days. She represents the new brand of Progressive Conservatism that the party is trying to brand itself as. Her work around integrity will be valued by this partially stained PC government.
  • Don Scott (Fort McMurray-Conklin) will likely be included as one of the Fort McMurray MLAs will need to be added to cabinet and he seems to be the more experienced of the two.
  • Other newcomers that could get cabinet postings include Christine Cusanelli (Calgary-Currie), Ron Casey (Banff-Cochrane), David Dorward (Edmonton-Gold Bar) and Sandra Jansen (Calgary-North West).
  • Alana DeLong (Calgary-Bow), Naresh Bhardwaj (Edmonton-Ellerslie) and Janice Sarich (Edmonton-Decore) are sophomore MLAs that could get a bump to cabinet.

Finally, experience is likely to come from these ministers who are likely to get reappointed, but bumps in their last files may provide uncertainty around their placement:

  • Doug Griffiths (Battle River-Wainright) proved popular on the leadership trail especially amongst progressives, but his spat with AUMA chair Linda Sloan could cost him.
  • Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castledowns) is a very strong messenger and has proven himself as loyal to the premier, but problems with passing the Education Act could jeopardize his reappointment.
  • Fred Horne (Edmonton-Rutherford) tried hard but wasn’t fully able to bring confidence to one of the most important portfolios in cabinet. He will likely be reinstated to cabinet at a lower posting.
  • Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Acadia), Jeff Johnson (Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater) and Heather Klimchuk (Edmonton-Glenora) have no points against them, but haven’t made a big splash either. They could go if Redford has other people in mind for cabinet.

And finally, since I am not afraid of being proven wrong, here is a firm estimate of people and positions from my point of view. I am certain there will be some restructuring, but I will place people into the old set of portfolios anyway.

Alison Redford Premier
Doug Horner Deputy Premier, Treasury Board
Dave Hancock Human Services, House Leader
Donna Kennedy-Glans Energy
Verlyn Olson Justice
Ken Hughes Health
Thomas Lukaszuk Finance
Fred Horne Education
Greg Weadick Advanced Education
Bridget Pastoor Agriculture
Cal Dallas Intergovernmental Affairs
Doug Griffiths Municipal Affairs
Diana McQueen Environment
Don Scott Transportation
Jonathan Denis Public Security / Solicitor General
Frank Oberle Sustainable Resources Development
George Vanderburg Seniors
Jeff Johnson Infrastructure
Manmeet Bhullar Service Alberta
Sandra Jansen Culture
Naresh Bhardwaj Tourism

Wildrose Voters got Cold Feet

In the days after Alberta’s engaging general election for the 28th legislature, everyone is talking about the polls – specifically how wrong they were. And while they did not accurately predict the outcome of the election, it is hard to suggest that the methodology was wrong. The polls, regardless of method employed, were pretty consistent with each other – particularly in the last week. If you have a large number of samples that are reinforcing each other, it is likely that the have a good sense of the question being asked and people’s honest opinions on the matter. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.

Most of the polls were reporting percentages based on decided voters, including voters who indicate which way they are leading. A few of the polls reported on the number of undecided voters and where reported that number was somewhere between 16 and 30 per cent. For sake of analysis, let’s make a few assumptions and look at the numbers. Assumptions:

  • There are 2,265,000 eligible voters in Alberta.
  • 20% of polled voters were undecided (5 polls that reported undecided percentage reported: 16, 17, 18, 24 and 30% undecided).
  • Polls in the last week showed around the following percentages for decided voters: 41% (WRP), 33% (PC), 11% (Lib), 11% (NDP).
WRP PC Lib NDP
2012 Projected Voters 742920 597960 199320 199320
2012 Actual Voters 442429 567060 127645 126752
Retention 60% 95% 64% 64%

If you assume that people generally don’t lie to pollsters, you have to assume that something happened between the pollsters phone call at home and the poll booth. While the PCs retained 95% of voters who told pollsters they would vote PC, the Wildrose only retained 60%.

There is an old adage that parties don’t get elected to office as much as other parties are thrown out of office. This would be very appropriate for Alberta. In order to change government, you typically need a high voter turnout. In 1921 the United Farmers were elected with 75% voter turnout; in 1935, when the Social Credit was swept into office, turnout was 82%; In 1971, when the PCs were swept in, turnout was 72%. Estimates for Monday’s election are putting turnout at around 57%. In order to toss out the governing Conservatives, the Wildrose would need to get about 40% of votes with a turnout of over 70% – they would need about 634,000 votes. Enough people told pollsters they would vote Wildrose, but not enough did.
Essentially what happened is a big chunk of potential Wildrose voters got cold feet.

Actually, the wedding analogy is pretty apt here. For the most part if a wedding leads to a successful marriage it is because the couple knows each other well, they have dated for a while, they were likely engaged for a while and as time went on the commitment towards getting married grows and solidifies. Alternately, sometimes a nice conservative man meets a young attractive energetic young lady, they quickly fall in love, think the world of each other, get engaged and 28 days later when the wedding is about to start, and the man has had a chance to learn a bit more about his lover, he wonders whether he’s making the right choice.
Alberta was tying on the patent leather shoes and figuring out how to tie up the bow tie when it said to itself, “Can we make this work if she doesn’t believe in climate change? What else don’t I know about her?”

There is no doubt that fear led to the collapse: A number of people who said they would vote Wildrose stayed home, a number went back to date the PCs a bit longer. Also a number of people who said they would vote Liberal or NDP ended up at the ballot box switching to the PCs. Alternately, PC supporters were more motivated to get to the polls, they feared the chance that they might lose grip on the province (especially to a radical WRP) and they got out to vote.

The WRP only retained 60% of voters who told pollsters they would vote WRP. There are three main reasons for this (most of which can be described as cold feet): anger with the PCs was not as big as expected and people stayed home; large poll numbers made people feel complacent and they stayed home; and people who were less engaged (less likely to vote) were inclined to tell pollsters they would vote WRP because of the early hype. This drop of 300,000 WRP supporters was the biggest factor in the PC win.

Another interesting trend is apparent when the bulk numbers from 2012 are compared to 2008:

WRP PC Lib NDP
2008 Votes 64407 501063 251158 80578
2012 Votes 442429 567060 127645 126752
Difference +378022 +65997 -123513 +46174

From this analysis, it is fascinating to see how every party was able to gain supporters with the exception of the Liberal party. While overall participation grew by 366,000 voters, It would be silly to suggest that WRP support came entirely from new voters. While some new voters would vote WRP, they gained most of their votes at the PCs expense. While the PCs lost a chunk of voters to the WRP, they would have picked up a lot of new voters and a lot of voters from the Liberals. Finally, the NDP base is relatively stable (in Alberta they are used to losing ridings and don’t mind voting NDP anyway). They would have gained some voters in their stronger ridings from the Liberals and they would have attracted some new voters. The growth in raw vote support suggests that the WRP, PC and NDP can all claim some victory in this election.

There is a bit of data here and a lot of speculation, so I would love to hear your comments.

Election Predictions and Ridings to Watch

Today is election day in Alberta and quite a day it will be. I am guaranteed to be glued to my television screen and interweb module well into the wee hours of the morning. I suspect that it will be late before we know who the premier will be and whether they will have a majority or minority government. I pity the people who will have to make projections for the media outlets. They will juggle the balance between trying to be first to call the election, while ensuring that their call is not a wrong call.

Nonetheless, for funsies, I am prepared to make a prediction:

  • Wildrose – 45 seats
  • PC          – 36 seats
  • NDP       – 4 seats
  • Liberal    – 2 seats

While I have ended up at nearly the same result as Eric at threehundredeight.com, I feel it is important to note that I have done so by crunching my own numbers using 2008 results and current poll projections. The totals are nearly the same, but the ridings that make up the totals are different.

Having said that, there are a few things that I will be watching closely on election night.

1. Bellwether Ridings – ridings where early results will help determine the scope of the election. Wildrose wins in these close Calgary ridings will help to indicate the mood of Calgarians for change. Similarly, if PC can hold these two close central Alberta ridings, it should indicate that rural Albertans might be less ready to risk it with the Wildrose.

  • Calgary Cross
  • Calgary Currie
  • Calgary East
  • Calgary Foothills
  • Lacombe Ponoka
  • Wetaskiwin Camrose

2. Other interesting ridings

  • Edmonton Centre – Everyone is talking about Glenora, but I think it is safer for the incumbent than this seat which is as likely to go PC or NDP as opposed to staying with Liberal Laurie Blakeman. I say Blakeman stays.
  • West Yellowhead – Should be a safe PC riding, but has had a strong showing for the NDP in the past. If Alberta party leader Glenn Taylor can convince labour supports to vote for him, he could steal the riding. My prediction is for Robin Campbell.
  • Calgary Elbow – Having been the home of former Premier Ralph Klein, Elbow must be getting accustomed to hosting the premier. Will their member be Premier, leader of the opposition or a giant killer in a new Wildrose government? I say Redford holds.
  • Edmonton Glenora – Of course, this one is being dubbed as the five way race so everyone will be keeping an eye on it. I believe that Klimchuk will be able to hold it and it won’t be as close as everyone is anticipating.
  • Edmonton Meadowlark – It is hard to say how many voters who voted for Raj Sherman as a PC will stick with him as a Liberal, but floor crossers are rarely punished in Alberta and he will have the advantage of being a party leader. I say Sherman holds.
  • Edmonton Riverview and Edmonton GoldBar – Both ridings were previous Liberal strongholds, but popular MLAs Taft and MacDonald are not running. The NDP is making big pushes in both ridings, but progressive voters might coalesce around the PCs to stave off the Wildrose. I’m picking PC in both ridings.
  • Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville – People here loved Ed Stelmach, some will backlash against the Tories for turfing him and reward the Wildrose who have fielded a strong candidate in Shannon Stubbs (seeking to beat the Premier at home), but others will see the Wildrose as the enemy that got rid of their guy and stay true blue. I think Fenske will keep the riding PC.

We shall check back on Tuesday to see how these predictions hold up.

Will recall remain a priority for a Wildrose government?

Democratic reform is a popular part of opposition party platforms, especially for populist parties who are trying to toss out a long standing party in power that is seen to have accountability issues. And so it goes for the 2012 Alberta general election. The Wildrose party is attempting to push aside the Progressive Conservatives whom have governed this province for over 41 years.

The Wildrose is sending the message that 40 years is enough and advancing rhetoric like, “The politics of entitlement and corruption must be replaced by a culture of accountability where doing what’s right is the rule, not the exception.”

Quite often however, a party that runs on a platform of democratic reform is slow to bring in the reforms once they gain power. The Reform/Conservative party at the federal level is a good example of this. They too proposed ideas like citizen initiatied referenda, recall legislation, a triple-e senate and free votes. Yet after more than 6 years in office, Prime Minister Harper has made little substantial progress on any of these concepts.

These ideas make for good policies to run on in an effort to unseat a ruling party, but they have no value for the party that is in power. And so, when a party assumes office, they have little impetus to change the system that got them there.

 With many pundits predicting either a minority government or slim Wildrose majority, some real considerable action is likely to occur after the election. The website threehundredeight.com is predicting that the Wildrose party will form a majority government by two seats (winning 45/87 seats). I have come to the same conclusion based on independent analysis. This situation will leave the results from election day in a tenuous position. The speaker election and potential floor crossings mean that the seat count on election night won’t necessarily represent the makeup of the legislature for too long.

Some important questions arise.

Would a Wildrose government in minority or slim majority position risk their potential tenuous hold on the legislature by carrying through with democratic reforms like free votes or recall? Could the Wildrose Accountability Act pledge be the first flip-flop for Danielle Smith? If Wildrose does carry through with the legislation, how long will it take for a “bozo eruption” to occur inspiring a recall effort against an MLA elected by a small margin to begin with?

Why I am eating my ballot.

With one week to go in the Alberta general election campaign, I’m wondering what you perceive the biggest issues to be. Perhaps it is F-35 fighter jets, maybe it is the abolition of the gun registry, the omnibus crime bill, perhaps it is public service cuts related to food safety inspectors or the CBC.
…So, I’m being told that those are not issues in the Alberta election… uh, huh… right, apparently, these are federal issues and not provincial issues… okay.
Well this makes sense, since we are contesting a provincial election, we should be discussing provincial issues like education, healthcare, energy and agriculture.
…what’s that… okay, but… No you just said this was a provincial election… WTF?… So apparently, I am now being told that there is a federal contest in this election.
At the same time there is a provincial general election (and a hotly contested one, at that) we are also selecting nominees-in-waiting forthe federal senate. Alberta is the only province in the country that partakes in this practice, and since confederation only three elected senators have ever been appointed to the senate. Otherwise, appointments are made by the Prime Minister without any democratic participation.
It is a little ridiculous that we are holding this federal contest in the middle of a provincial campaign. There has been absolutely no attention paid to the contest, the candidates or the issues. The purpose of a democratic campaign, in my mind, is that every 4 years (or so) we engage in a public conversation around issues of importance and then citizens decide on who they think will best represent those views. If there is no public discussion of the issues, then the outcome of the process fails to have legitimacy.
Another peculiarity of this exercise that questions the legitimacy of the practice is that the people who are being elected next week, could be left in waiting for up to 6 years or longer. Who is to say, that the candidates elected by Albertans in 2012 will still be supported in 2018 or for that matter decades later as they still sit in the chamber. Perhaps the opinion of the candidate on certain issues will have changed; perhaps the opinion of Albertans will have changed. In a legitimate democratic campaign, the candidates need to discuss publicly the relevant issues of the day that they will be deciding on – that is not what is happening in this process. This delay between when an election is made and when an appointment is made brings further questions to the legitimacy of the election.
Now, I understand why we are doing this. There is a genuine interest in reforming the senate and most Albertans have seemingly supported the concept of a triple-E senate as advanced by the Reform party in the 1990s. But the little exercise we are engaged in today is haphazard and only achieves a miniscule element of piecemeal reformation. All it does is add some little bit of credibility to a system that is completely broken without committing to the full set of reforms that are necessary.
At the end of the day, we should talk about real senate reform instead of piecemeal ad hoc revisions and perhaps we should even talk about abolishing the senate. The Senate is Canada’s version of the British House of Lords. The House of Lords was the first version of parliament in the English monarchy. In the 11th century, this house included religious leaders and key advisors to the king, appointed by the king. It wasn’t until the 14th century that cities and boroughs demanded representation that the house of commons (representing commoners) was created. For centuries the house of lords included those who held particular church positions, those appointed by the king and those who inherited their seat from their parents. In fact, up until 1999 a chunk of seats in the house of lords were still being passed down within aristocratic families. (This page outlines how seats are given out in Britain today). The house of lords maintained power over the house of commons for many centuries and the struggle of prominence is an important piece of British history. Ultimately, the house of lords is about maintaining power in the hands of the wealthy and elite and those who have become accustomed to holding power. It serves well to maintain the class lines that are so prominent in Britain throughout history and even into today.
In today’s Canada, we have no need for a house of lords or a senate – elected or not. That is why I plan to spoil my senate ballot on April 23rd and I hope you will too.

180 degrees.

180 degrees. About face.

Alison Redford may have been called a flip flopper before, but this time it was a complete polar turn around. To be fair, I see nothing wrong with flip flopping. We all make mistakes and we all make decisions without necessarily considering the complete information. Reversing a decision simply means that a person has given an issue further consideration and deemed that a different decision would be more appropriate. Policy development should be about getting things right and it shouldn’t matter if someone thought wrong before and has since changed their mind – as long as they get it right.

Redford has now gotten it right (sort of). I am talking of course about the announcement made on Thursday that PC MLAs will return their no-meet-committee pay. Clearly, this issue was being heard on the doorsteps as MLAs were canvassing for votes. This issue, it was deemed, was driving down PC poll numbers. A flip was necessary.

And the PCs messaged this one perfectly – in a way very few politicians have had the courage to do so before.

“Growing up I was always taught that the only thing worse than making a mistake was not admitting it and fixing it. I made a mistake on these issues and now I am fixing them,” she said. “Leadership is about making decisions; sometimes difficult decisions and sometimes, admitting you were wrong.”

So, how did they get it so wrong? How did PC MLAs – smart, politically savvy people, with their ear to the ground – not know that Albertans would be so upset about this? I suspect they knew that there  would be backlash, but they felt that the issue had been managed appropriately. Maybe they have a point.

First off, MLA compensation is broken. There is a dominant narrative that suggests politicians are a bunch of pigs at a trough and we pay them too much money. This narrative is particularly strong in Alberta. So, for the past two decades, MLAs have attempted to hide the real amount of compensation that they get. They got rid of the pension plan and replaced it with severance packages. They slashed base pay and implemented tax free allowances. They implemented pay for committee and portfolio work and boosted it by 30 per cent. All of this is done in an effort to make MLA remuneration appear lower than it actually is. Ultimately, it is dishonest and unfair to both MLAs and taxpayers.

MLAs saw the committee pay, not as pay specifically for the work of the committee, but rather just as a part of their actual total compensation. I think that is why Ray Prins was so insulted by this being phrased as an integrity question. For MLAs, being named to a committee meant they were being recognized for good work and the compensation that came with that was part and parcel of MLA pay. That concept that committee pay is about boosting total compensation for backbenchers as opposed to pay for extra work is echoed in statements made by former MLA Richard Marz.

The real problem is that MLA base compensation is too low. A number of MLAs are doctors, or lawyers or business executives and in many cases they now work harder and longer, under closer scrutiny and for less pay than they did before. Our premier, chairman of the board for an organization that manages a $40 billion per year operation – takes in a bit over $200,000 per year. I wonder how that would compare to the chairman of a similar sized organization in the private sector? The average MLA pay depending on the source you ask, is between $125,000 and $160,000. I’m not going to suggest that that is a small amount of money, but if we want the best decisions made, then we need to attract the best and brightest to public office. We have to give them an incentive for taking the risk, making the sacrifices and managing the time and stress associated with the role.

At the end of the day, a review is necessary and Redford has appropriately appointed former Supreme Court justice John Major to lead that review. Policy-wise it was the right decision to make – unfortunately it didn’t work out well for her politically. Hopefully this honest reversal will.

Liberals release poll, continue with bold moves

The Alberta Liberals carried on day two of the provincial election campaign with another bold move. After suggesting that they had the best day one of the parties, I risk coming across as partisan when I suggest that they take the cake again for day two. The big bang came from releasing internal poll results on public opinion of their policy platform. This move wasn’t a complete win for the Liberals but it was the boldest move of the day.

(Honourable mention goes to the Conservative “Compare” press releases, but I am sure I will be able to write about those on a future day.)

It is common for parties to engage in all sorts of public polling (and even push polling, if you are Stephen Carter) but it is most uncommon for those parties to release the results publicly. Furthermore, the Alberta Liberals need to be given full points for releasing the entire results – warts and all.

The poll results show that the public might be comfortable with adopting some of the Liberal positions, perhaps even more so if they don’t come from the Liberals:

  • 57% of Albertans support doubling the seniors home care budget,
  • 50% support elimination school fees,
  • 53% support post secondary debt forgiveness for grads who stay in Alberta,
  • 50% support tuition elimination,
  • 64% support free votes in the legislature,
  • 54% support income tax hikes on the wealthy, and
  • 66% support higher corporate taxes.

 I should mention that all of the poll questions were phrased in the positive and people are more likely to poll in favour of things as opposed to being against things and that may speak to some of the support. But what is interesting is question C3: Having heard these ideas from the Alberta Liberal Party platform do they make you more or less likely to vote for them?

Almost as many people said they were less likely to vote for the Liberals as said they were more likely to vote for them (around a third of respondents each). 28% of people said they wouldn’t change their voting intention at all. And given that only 13% of respondents expressed support for the Liberals, this result should not be completely comforting for the grits. The question not asked was would you be more likely to vote for the NDP or Wildrose party after hearing their policy.

Unfortunately, ideas matter less in elections than how effective you are at messaging them or how popular your leader is.  The Liberals have a big branding issue in Alberta that probably can’t be solved by simply expressing good ideas.

Two days of bold announcements might help fix the brand, but they must have some big tricks left to pull out later in the campaign too.

Hotel stunt wins day one for Sherman

An election campaign is upon us and that means that each day will be filled with announcements, attacks, ideas, stunts and mistakes. It makes for an interesting time as Albertans spend 4 weeks discussing a wide variety of public policy issues (in theory). With so little surprise as to the day the campaign would start each party had a good opportunity to plan for it and ensure that they started with their best foot forward. For me, the strategies and the tactics are the most compelling thing to watch. There were no flubs, but which party and which happening was most notable on Day One?

My vote has to go to the Alberta Liberal party.

While the other parties held news conferences from the legislature with their leader surrounded by candidates attempting to set a narrative in motion, it was Raj Sherman who decided to do things a little differently. He launched his campaign from the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald of all places.

Dr Sherman started out with a stunt that reinforced the issue on which he is most knowledgeable and for which most Albertans describe as their top priority: healthcare. The message being delivered: a night in acute care is more costly than a night in the most expensive hotel in Edmonton. Point well delivered and well punctuated.

Albertans are finally starting to realise and accept generally that the biggest problem with our healthcare system is the waiting times for extended care beds for seniors. Unfortunately, these people who do not require acute care treatment (what most of us consider to be a general hospital bed), are stuck in acute care beds until the longterm care spaces open up. The log jam here is clogging the hallways down to and out the emergency room doors.

Emergency wards are full of people who are ready to be moved to acute care, but have to wait and the waiting rooms are full of people waiting to see a doctor in the emergency ward. Unfortunately, a good number of the people waiting to be seen in Emergency are being attended to by paramedics and the stress gets passed on to our ambulatory system.

Dr Sherman delivered a solid blow on day one by effectively showing that a little bit of money spent on seniors long term care will save money in all other parts of the system while simultaneously fixing some of the biggest problems.

Election 2012 Begins – A real race is expected.

As expected Premier Alison Redford visited the Lieutenant-Governor’s office today and started Alberta’s 2012 general election. She waited until the Alberta legislature passed the budget to get the campaign started in an effort to reinforce the party image as stable competent managers. The strategy seemed sound: pass a fair and prudent budget, move forward on key legislation and keep Danielle Smith on the sidelines. The risk, of course, is that you provide a forum for the opposition parties to air their grievances on a daily basis. If a narrative emerges and gains traction, then you are stuck in the house responding to an agenda advanced by the opposition parties. Unfortunately a narrative emerged: the Tories are bullies and have abused the reins of power for too long. This narrative was largely advanced by the Liberals and will serve the Wildrose party well.

Recent polls bear witness to this critical mistake on election timing. Prior to the spring session the PCs had a comfortable 10-15 point lead, but two polls released on the day the election started show the race is much closer.

A CTV-Forum research poll puts the PCs ahead only three points over the Wildrose province wide (36-33) amongst decided voters. Even worse, a Global-Ipsos poll puts the parties in a complete tie (38-38). With a strong Tory lead in Edmonton, both polls demonstrate that Wildrose is ahead in Calgary and rural Alberta.

Now I am watching the polls closely and have developed a little seat projection tool that I hope will serve me well throughout the campaign. According to my projections, a vote held today would yield 51 seats for the PCs, 27 for the Wildrose, 6 seats for the NDP and 3 seats for the Liberals. (My pre-session projections were 65-12-5-5, and a few commentators said I was giving too much credit to the opposition).

Polls aside, 28 days can be an eternity in politics and a vigorous campaign will undoubtedly emerge. Redford strategist Stephen Carter is known to use the full length of the campaign period quite effectively, so the story on April 22nd will be quite different from the story today. I hope to write to you dear reader on a daily basis until then. I hope you will enjoy it and share your thoughts.

Fresh views on politics in Alberta