REVISITED: 7 THINGS TO WATCH IN ALBERTA BYELECTIONS

Last week, I wrote about the 7 things to watch in the four October 27th by-elections and now that the results are in, I thought I would revisit the questions.

1. How many ridings will the PCs hold?

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Premier Jim Prentice (credit: Dave Cournoyer)

The PC’s go 4 for 4! Despite the fact that these were Tory strongholds and that the PC vote share was down considerably, this is a big win for Prentice and demonstrates that the electorate is willing to give him a shot without making his party wear too much of the Redford stain.

2. Who will win Calgary-Elbow?

cc: Premier Jim Prentice
Education Minister Gordon Dirks (credit: Premier Jim Prentice)

Alberta’s Education Minister will remain Gordon Dirks as he takes the riding with a comfortable 800 votes over the second place Alberta Party. It turns out that Calgary West was the closer call.

What’s interesting in Elbow is that the Alberta Party and even the Liberals grew their support here compared to 2012. In fact, a clear argument of vote splitting could be made here where nearly 5,000 people voted for these two centre-left parties allowing Dirks to win with only 4,200 votes.

3. Can the Wildrose demonstrate growth?

Danielle Smith (credit: Dave Cournoyer)
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith (credit: Dave Cournoyer)

In 2012, the Wildrose took 20,000 of the 65,000 votes in these four ridings. In 2014, they took 13,800 of 50,000 votes. This is a really bad result for the WRP. Not only were they not able to attract discontented voters amidst Tory scandal, they actually lost vote share – from 31% of voters in 2012 to 28% in 2014. Not only did they not demonstrate growth, but they receded. I will argue that every party has something to be happy about in these results with the exception of the Wildrose.

To be fair, PC vote share went down from 61% to 44% over the past two years in these four ridings, but that was to be expected given the controversies – and the PCs still eked out the wins.

4. Turnout

A voting lineup 9Zcredit: https://www.flickr.com/marrngtn/)
A voting lineup (credit: http://www.flickr.com/marrngtn/)

Just under 50,000 voters came out for by-elections in four ridings that attracted 65,000 voters in 2012. This amounted to a 38% voter turnout. I said that high turnout meant change; well, low turnout represents complacency.

5. Will Greg Clark be a difference maker in Elbow?

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Greg Clark made a difference. He did not win in Elbow but he was a very close second. While the Alberta Party would have had a great advantage if they had a seat in the legislature, this result shows that they can be a credible threat for change in the future.

6. Can the NDP actualize their high poll numbers in Edmonton?

Edmonton-Whitemud NDP Candidate Bob Turner credit: Dave Cournoyer)
Whitemud NDP Candidate Bob Turner (credit: Dave Cournoyer)

The NDP should not do well in Edmonton-Whitemud and yet they finished second. They nearly doubled the number of votes they received in 2012. This is a big win for the NDP and does demonstrate that they could be in play in a number of areas across Edmonton.

There is a footnote to the Alberta Party and NDP gains and that is that each of these parties were able to focus solely on one riding, whereas the other three parties had multiple split focuses. All of the NDP resources were directed to Whitemud and all of the Alberta Party effort was directed to Elbow. The gains will have as much to do with hard work as they do with changing mood of the electorate and so I would be cautious to extrapolate too much of this success into a general election where efforts will be split up again.

7. Will the Liberals maintain relevance?

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman credit: Dave Cournoyer)
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman (credit: Dave Cournoyer)

I wouldn’t call tonight a big win for the Libs but it wasn’t a big loss either. They essentially got 1,000 votes in all of the ridings but Foothills. Their vote total in Elbow grew and they only dropped 300 votes in each of Whitemud and West. They will still have challenges ahead but these results were respectable.

Final Takeaways

Prentice is being given a fair shot and he is being viewed as an agent of change – that is important for his future success, but I still think the leash is short. These were after all some pretty traditionally safe ridings for the Tories.

The Wildrose still needs to do some soul searching. They worked hard to adjust their policy manual but they did not capitalize on some significant discontent that fit squarely into their core messaging around a tired old PC party that needed to be changed. There may be a glass ceiling and there may be some structural issues that need resolving.

We need a new dynamic for progressive voters in Alberta. There is a sense that Alberta is changing, but I can’t imagine any of the Liberals, NDP or Alberta Party coalescing the votes on their own.

Finally, we should give serious consideration to a system of proportional representation. The PCs got 4 seats tonight with just 44% of the total vote while shutting out all of the opposition parties. Despite some very close races there is no voice being placed in the legislature for the thousands of people who voted today for the Wildrose, Liberal, NDP or Alberta party.

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