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IMPORTANT RACES TO WATCH AND MY PREDICTIONS

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.

Bellwether Ridings

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-Hawkwood
  • Calgary-Lougheed
  • 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.

  • Calgary-North West

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:

  • Edmonton-Millcreek
  • Edmonton-Rutherford
  • Edmonton-Whitemud

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.

My Prediction

Just because it’s fun to do, I’m guessing we will see an NDP minority.

  • NDP: 37 seats
  • Wildrose: 29
  • PC: 19
  • Liberals: 1
  • 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.

MY MLA? OL’ WHAZHIZFACE?

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.

CES2011
-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.

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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.

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.

7 THINGS TO WATCH IN ALBERTA BY-ELECTIONS

By-elections are being held in four ridings across Alberta on October 27th. This mini-election, of sorts, is needed to elect Premier Jim Prentice and two of his cabinet ministers to the legislative assembly. More importantly, the four races will serve as a weather vane in the rapidly shifting winds of politics in Alberta today.

We shouldn’t read too much into the face value results because Jim’s team is risk averse and has chosen circumstances that will lead to favourable results and at the same time, by-elections give the electorate a safe place to punish governing parties without dramatically affecting the party  balance that currently exists. With that in mind, here are 7 things to look for as the results roll in next Monday.

1. How many ridings will the PCs hold?

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Premier Jim Prentice (credit: Dave Cournoyer)

In my opinion, the surprise addition of Calgary-West to the slate of ridings up for grabs was meant as a buffer for Premier Prentice. Losing one of three ridings looks worse than losing one of four. So what result do the PCs need? 4 for 4 would be a pretty big win for Jim, yet 2 of 4 in these ‘safe’ areas should be viewed as a considerable indictment of Alberta’s natural ruling party. If they pull out 3 wins (the most likely outcome) then it is easily spun as a good mandate for the new leadership with only a little collateral damage (all Alison’s fault) along the way.

2. Who will win Calgary-Elbow?

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

Education Minister Gordon Dirks is in the toughest spot of the four PC candidates. Alison Redford’s old riding will be a magnet for discontent and many voters will be motivated to punish the PCs. At the same time, opposition parties have  had a target placed here ever since she resigned as Premier. Calgary-Foothills andEdmonton-Whitemud will likely go PC, Calgary-West is more challenging but Calgary-Elbow is very much up for grabs.

3. Can the Wildrose demonstrate growth?

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

As much as these by-elections are a test for the PCs, they should also be a big test for the Wildrose. Much of their support province-wide is in protest to a tired dynasty that has become riddled with scandal in the past few months. Simply put, the Wildrose has to be attracting voters who are looking to finally oust the PCs. If the Wildrose are going to be a big threat in 2016 then they should be attracting lots of voters in these by-elections. Look to see how many votes they secure. In 2012, they secured almost 20,000 votes across the four ridings and despite likely low turnout in a by-election the Wildrose should be able to demonstrate growth across the board. If they can’t identify and pull more than 20,000 votes it may be an indication that the government-in-waiting will have difficulty breaking through it’s 2012 ceiling.

4. Turnout

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

By-elections have little result on the makeup of government and so people are less likely to make the trek to the polls. This opportunity though includes some big names at a critical time. A little over 65,000 voters came out to vote in these four ridings in 2012 – expect fewer next Monday, but call it a big news story if turnout has grown. A low turnout will indicate more comfort with the status quo but high turnout will show motivation for change.

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

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Greg Clark is the new leader of the Alberta party and his campaign has some big fire power behind him in the form of former PC and Liberal provincial campaign managers Stephen Carter and Corey Hogan, respectively. The Elbow race is critical for the future of the Alberta party. After dismal showings from strong candidates in 2012 the new kids on the block need a win (or at worst a very strong 3rd) here to remain viable as a party. If Clark does take the seat, then the party gets an important toe-hold and could be well positioned to seriously change the political dynamic in Alberta in 2016.

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)

It’s not like Edmonton-Whitemud has ever been a hotbed of socialism but the NDP was polling at the top of the heap in Edmonton over the summer. They’ve attracted a great candidate inDr. Bob Turner but he is still running against a popular former mayorin the province’s traditionally strongest PC riding. A win or strong second for the NDP will show that Edmonton is indeed ready for Rachel and will indicate a significant shift.

7. Will the Liberals maintain relevance?

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

I don’t anticipate the Alberta Liberals winning any of these seats, but a poor showing will be a disastrous signal for the party. In 2012, only their incumbent MLAs held their seats and since then the party has looked more like a group of individual MLAs that happen to have offices near each other. Two of those MLAs are about to jump to run federally and if progressive voters coalesce around other parties next week it will be a sign of big trouble for the grits. The saving grace, though, is that the party has attracted some good name candidates in  Susan Wright (Elbow) and Donna Wilson (Whitemud). The Liberals should be getting around 1,000 votes in each riding and significantly less would be problematic.