Later today at a public celebration on the legislature grounds, Alberta’s new NDP government will be sworn in. With a large number of inexperienced MLAs elected, many are suggesting that the NDP doesn’t have a strong group for cabinet. The announcement earlier this week that the cabinet would only have 12 people, including Notley, served as proof to these people that the caucus was weak.
I’ve been spending some time since May 5th looking at the makeup of the caucus and I didn’t find that to be the case at all. There may be a few holes, like in energy, but there are plenty of qualified people with a wide range and depth of valuable experience. In fact, I earlier thought there would be about 17 cabinet ministers and I still had many good people sitting away from the table.
With the 12-person announcement this week, I have revised my estimates and come up with a new prediction. With only 12 people and only four incumbents (all from Edmonton) the trick to cabinet making will be geographic diversity. I suggest that the cabinet making starts outside the two metro areas, then goes to Calgary and finally ends in Edmonton. Here are my picks:
Outside the Metros:
Shannon Phillips, Lethbridge West (Int’l and Intergov Relations)
Colin Piquette, Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater (Environment, Agriculture)
Marg McCuaig-Boyd, Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley (Advanced Ed, Jobs and Labour)
Bob Wanner, Medicine Hat (Municipal Affairs)
Joe Ceci, Calgary-Fort (Human Services)
Kathleen Ganley, Calgary-Buffalo (Justice)
Karen McPherson, Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill (Service Alberta, Culture and Tourism)
Sarah Hoffman, Edmonton-Glenora (Education, Women)
The interesting thing to me about this experience is that after filling in these qualified cabinet candidates, you end up with a quite a strong list of backbenchers who just miss the cut, like: Bob Turner, Lori Sigurdson, Marie Renaud, Danielle, Larivee, Richard Feehan, Marlin Schmidt, Stephanie McLean, Ricardo Miranda, Irfan Sabir and David Shepherd.
It is election day in Alberta and before I have anything else to say, I have this important thing to say: VOTE!
It will only take a few minutes but it is fundamentally important to our province. Before the campaign started, many pundits were predicting a strong PC majority and very low voter turnout. But, by today, we have laid witness to one of the most profound and interesting campaigns of the last 44 years. Be a part of it.
Without further adieu, I would like to outline a few close races to watch for as the results pour in and also to offer my predictions for the final tally.
Keep an eye on these ridings, which appear to be some of the closest competitions in the election. The results for these bellwether ridings will help to indicate how well any particular party will do and what the end result may be across the province.
Three Calgary area ridings will be close three-way races between the PCs, WRP and NDP. Each has a PC incumbent, but no real star candidates. These results should indicate the relative strength of any of the three parties in Calgary
Calgary Northern Hills
One more riding in Calgary will be close, although the NDP will likely be further behind. It also features a former Wildrose party president dropping the gloves against the Redford-era bullying minister.
Edmonton is looking like an NDP sweep, but if the Tories can hold a few ridings here, albeit with high profile candidates, it will show some potential strength. Watch these ridings:
A few races outside of the big metros should be quite close and results could be extrapolated to show the provincial trends:
Ft McMurray – Conklin: Wildrose leader takes on PC minister with a strong NDP campaign. Three way race.
Lesser Slave Lake: Long term PC MLA in a three-way race.
Sherwood Park: Two former mayors fight with NDP hot on heels.
Spruce Grove-St. Albert: @308dotcom projects NDP win in Horner country, but I’m not convinced.
Other Interesting Ridings
These ridings may not necessarily be the closest ridings, but for one reason or another offer a compelling reason to watch.
Calgary Buffalo: Incumbent Liberal MLA Kent Hehr has decided to take a run at federal politics. The Liberals put up a strong candidate in David Khan, but so did the PCs in Terry Rock. The Orange Wave could still play spoiler.
Calgary Elbow: This rematch of the fall 2014 by-election pits PC Education Minister Gordon Dirks against Alberta Party leader Greg Clark in a traditionally strong conservative riding. Polls and pundits have called this race neck-in-neck.
Calgary Mountain View: Interim Liberal leader, David Swann, is a confident, smart, respectable and well-liked MLA, but he could fall victim to an NDP surge in one of the few ridings that will be fought on the left end of the spectrum. It would be a shame if Swann were to be kept out of the leg.
Edmonton Centre: Laurie Blakeman is an outstanding MLA and deserves big kudos for the victory on GSAs, but she is facing stiff challenge from the NDP’s David Shephard. If the leg were to lose Blakeman it would be a big blow but it would not be her fault.
Both Chestermere-Rocky View and Calgary Acadia have had interesting candidate stories, so they will be fun to keep an eye on, but I suspect they both go Wildrose.
Just because it’s fun to do, I’m guessing we will see an NDP minority.
NDP: 37 seats
Alberta Party: 1
We’re in Alberta and we have a rare close and exciting campaign, so at the end of the day, Albertans will win.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
So, you’re a former capital region mayor, who was popular as mayor, has good progressive credentials and now finds themselves on the inside of provincial government. You might be looking in the mirror today, thinking about the health portfolio and wondering how the world unfolded to put you where you are today. If this is you, then you’re not alone.
Sure, you might be Stephen Mandel, but you might also be Cathy Oleson, Ken Lemke or George Rogers, for that matter.
There is an important distinction however between Sherwood Park MLA Cathy Oleson and Health Minister Stephen Mandel. Oleson was elected to office by discussing her views on provincial healthcare (amongst other issues) with constituents as part of an election. In fact, Oleson had to discuss healthcare extensively with Sherwood Park constituents who were unhappy with not getting the hospital that they felt they had been promised – and still got elected.
The fact that Stephen Mandel was chosen by Premier Jim Prentice to be health minister over, say, Cathy Oleson, or any of 57 other PC MLAs raises an important question: what is the status of the mandate given to the Progressive Conservatives in the 2012 election?
That mandate was a progressive mandate. It is common knowledge that the PCs won the election because progressives all across the province, in ridings like Sherwood Park, coalesced around the PCs in an effort to defeat the lake-of-fire and anti-climate-change views that became emblematic of the Wildrose Party. Oleson, Lemke, Rogers, and most of the other PC MLAs were elected with that progressive mandate.
It is important to note that while the Alberta public has since come to reject Alison Redford, they haven’t necessarily rejected that mandate. Redford was tossed aside not because of her policy but because of her personal ethics (Indeed, it could be well argued that she would have been safer if she had stayed true to her original policy directions). In fact, a group of PC MLAs who were largely progressives and were instrumental in her downfall are all now on the outside of cabinet looking in.
In the days leading up to Redford’s resignation as premier, a group of10 rebel MLAs started clandestine meetings to discuss the growing spending controversies of the premier. They included Oleson and Lemke, but also included Janice Sarich, Matt Jeneroux, Moe Amery, Neil Brown, Jacquie Fenske, Mary Anne Jablonski, and David Xiao. Arguably, these people did more to bring down Redford than anyone else at that time. Most of them were very much elected on that progressive mandate.
I suspect that these MLAs were motivated by uneasiness amongst their constituents and growing disappointment with the Redford government. Not just disappointment over the spending controversies but also disappointment over the abandonment of the mandate that voters gave to the PCs in 2012.
So, does the appointment of outsiders like Mandel and Education Minister Gordon Dirks over these 10 MLAs speak to a rejection of the 2012 PC mandate or will the new Prentice government embrace that mandate that its caucus was elected on? Time will tell.
However, if Prentice wants to pursue a new direction then he needs to obtain it from the electorate. A set of by-elections may provide him with a limited new mandate, but then he has to fight those by-elections with a clear policy agenda and not just vague messages of change or accountability. Only then will he have the authority to change the policy directions given to government. If he doesn’t get that permission from voters, then he has an obligation to follow up on the commitments that got his MLAs elected.