I have a question for you, dear reader. What factor was the biggest factor that drove your voting decision in the 2012 Alberta election? Did you base your vote on a platform, a leader, a party, a local candidate or was it a combination of two or more factors?

The 2011 Canadian Election Study asked a similar question of 2500 voters after they voted in the 2011 federal election. Responding to the question, “Which of the following was most important in your decision to vote for  this party,” most voters said they liked the policies of the party they voted for and the next largest group said they didn’t like the other parties.

-2011 Canadian Election Study

Much of the conversation after the 2012 Alberta election focused on how many progressives voted for the PC party because they liked Redford, liked the policy positions advanced by the Tories, or moreover, voted to stem the surge of the Wildrose party.

I would suspect that, like in the 2011 study, few people would say that they voted for the local candidate.  This is interesting because what we’ve learned since 2012 is that the only part of the vote that really counts at the end of the day is the local candidate.

Allow me to elaborate.

Perhaps you voted for one or more of the planks of the progressive platform promoted by the PC party. You were likely dismayed by their lack of action on things like a poverty reduction strategy or full-day kindergarten. But despite the almost wholesale abandonment of their election platform, you’re vote still stood. So, voting for the platform does not count.

Jim Prentice (credit: Dave Cournoyer)

Perhaps you are a PC voter who voted for the leadership of Alison Redford. You were likely upset by all of her controversies and, by the time of her eventual resignation, grew quite disillusioned by her leadership. But despite the party appointing a new leader, you were not given a new vote. So, voting for the leader does not count.

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

Let’s say you voted for the Wildrose party because of the party; because you were rejecting 40-plus years of one-party power in Alberta. You were likely upset by the mass defection of 12 MLAs from your party of choice – perhaps you watched your own MLA walk over to the party you were rejecting. It doesn’t matter; your vote still stood. So, voting for the party doesn’t count.

Dave Hancock (credit: Dave Cournoyer)
Dave Hancock (credit: Government of Alberta)

However, if you were one of the people who voted for Len Webber, Dave Hancock, Ken Hughes or Alison Redford as your local MLA, then you were one of the few people in Alberta, since 2012, who were asked to make a new choice. You got to vote again because your local candidate changed.

Policies change, leaders change and party affiliations change, but so long as your MLA is still prepared and able to sit in the house then your vote remains cast. To put it simply, in our parliamentary system, despite how you decide to cast your ballot, the only thing that legally matters at the end of the day is the local candidate who received the most votes.

This is important to keep in mind as we prepare to screen a new set of candidates, leaders, platforms and parties in another provincial election.


P.S. – For what it’s worth, by the way, I’m predicting that the writ will be dropped on March 16 for an April 13 election date.


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?

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?


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.