Progressives need a crash course in basic electoral math, writes MLA.

Kent Hehr MLA Calgary-Buffalo

Kent Hehr

By Kent Hehr

Like many progressives, I watched the Calgary Centre by-election with great interest. Although I was hopeful that one of three outstanding candidates who represented the center/center-left side of the spectrum would win, Joan Crockett’s victory for the federal Conservatives was not surprising. Like Bill Clinton said at the Democratic National Convention describing how to balance budgets, “it’s math”.

Progressive candidates representing the Liberals, NDP, and Greens garnered 60% of the total cast vote. As a result of that 60% being split among three parties in our first past the post system, the provincial Wildrose supporter (Ms. Crockett) carried the day. The result was predictable in that vote splitting amongst the progressives ensured a conservative victory. It’s math!

While this result was predictable, was it necessary? I’m not too sure. Having followed the race and personally knowing and holding a great deal of respect for the three progressive candidates, it is my view that other than the political banner they ran under, there was little to no difference in their core beliefs. Put Harvey Locke, Chris Turner and Dan Meades in a room together and you’d see the value system that compelled them to run in this by-election is the same: they are fiscally responsible, socially progressive individuals with a deep concern for environmental sustainability. Having attended one of the debates, it appeared to me they were all singing from the same song sheet. Although they represented different political brands, it was a distinction without a difference.

As a provincial politician committed to many of the same progressive principles as the three above-noted candidates, what did I learn from this? Well, I think I’ve learned basic math. The center/center-left in this province will not form government until we are in one big tent party. At this moment in time, and objectively looking at the provincial platforms of the progressive parties, we are for all intents and purposes also a distinction without a difference.

In the last election the NDP, Liberals, Greens and Alberta Party agreed on policy 95% of the time. We should all be together in one big tent; there is less difference between all of our political parties than there is between the different wings of the PC government.

What keeps us apart is rugged tribalism that leads to infighting between us and keeps our guns pointed squarely at each other instead of focusing our fire on the right-wing in this province. We tend to identify with our brands and not necessarily the values that we share. Let me be the first to say, I’m putting down my gun, and am open to all conversations with no preconditions. We need to figure out how we can come together in a big tent party. Otherwise, we are wasting our time. It’s math.


Kent Hehr is the MLA for Calgary-Buffalo, Deputy Leader of Alberta Liberal Caucus and critic for Education and Energy. He was elected to the Legislature in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012. Before entering politics, he practiced law with Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP in Calgary. You can follow him on Twitter at @kenthehr.

80 thoughts on “Progressives need a crash course in basic electoral math, writes MLA.”

  1. @Stephen,

    Completely agreed! 4 + 5 = 0! I just rebutted that to Corey. Most progressives are deep storaged in the Tory party. In light of the scandals and more that may come to light, that will be the key to waking up centrist progressives that have passively and blindly voted P See for the last few provincial elections.

    Partyless centrists need to come up with a creative strategy to lure and capture the imagination of mainstream progressives tied up in the P See party. That will take hard work at the grass roots level. Yet not one of them have suggested the idea.

    As long as WR can stay mainstream and have mainstream candidates and mainstream policies, many of those Libs, that held their nose and voted Tory will come back to the Liberals and many right wing Tories will vote WR. The ND’s will more or less stay the same. Understanding that simple concept, it will become clear, that watering down the ND’s and Libs or having a vote splitting AP party, it is a form of vote splitting only serves to strengthen the Tories.

  2. @Political Watcher:

    We can play the last election hypothetical game all day. Does five plus four equal none, nine, or nineteen? I don’t know, and neither do you. But if we’re interested in better government, we’ll acknowledge this box we’re in hasn’t served us. And that leads us to look at alternatives. You’ve proposed one – working harder. So has Kent – working together.

    We can do both. When it comes to presenting a common front or doing more grassroots organization, it’s really not an either/or proposition. It’s a both/and. But you’ll find the grassroots will have a lot more to be excited about if they see a path forward.

    And ironically, competing for votes in the center is far easier if you don’t have to worry about your leftward flank. A big tent progressive party IS possible. It just requires party leaders to be open to the idea – and I applaud Kent for that. It takes a lot of guts for a sitting MLA to take the stand he did.

    The members of all progressive parties will weigh the facts and decide on their course of action. And hopefully when they do, they’ll be thinking about their province and not themselves.

  3. If Political Watcher isn’t Raj Sherman or somebody whose paycheck is signed by Raj Sherman, I’ll eat David Swann’s cowboy hat.

    A similarly anonymous poster who is well aware of the irony

  4. @corey, you and kent are proposing a small tent progressive party, which will in fact scare away most mainstream progressives, and yes, main stream progressives DO SCARE EASILY, in light of the Lakes of fire comment. It does not take all that much courage or hardwork to toss forward ill conceived. It makes more sense for Lib and Wr to co-operate from the left rather than fight, put a bunch of work in and only compete for last place. Your ideas may be well meaning, but its like trying to scratch your left ear with your right foot. Members would have done this long ago, if the thought it had even an inch of credible merit. Its just going to give Tories a free ride even further. Most main stream middle class voters will not touch a centrist party infested with lefty ND’s. You really need to get out and talk to real mainstream folks who got families and do picnics on sundays. They already have intrepidation of lefty ideals. The only party that stands to gain are the far left and Tories. All ideas are great in one’s dreams, but reality narrows the competition. Voters and supporters would have a fleeting child like fascination at best. There is however a stomach to return to a traditional Nd-lib and Cons political spectrum.

  5. I, uh, find this idea as crazy as Castro at a rally. It, uh, just keeps going on and on but nothing gets done.

  6. “Political Watcher” has a short-term understanding of Alberta politics. As Tom Flanagan observed in the Globe and Mail when big oil decided to move the marginal WRA into the big leagues so as to make Stelmach back down on oil royalties,it was safe to split the right in AB because the left is split. The Democratic Renewal Project commissioned a Leger survey in 2010 that showed that if the four centre-left parties agreed to select just one candidate in each constituency that 48 percent of Albertans would vote for that candidate. Average voters, as opposed to the .1 percent of Albertans who hold a membership in a progressive party, are only willing to consider potential winners. As Stephen Anderson suggests, that’s why the left-of-Tory vote dropped from the 40 percent mark of the 2004 and 2008 elections to about 21 percent in 2012. These parties had “loser” written all over them.

    After 77 years of continuous right-wing government, Albertans deserve a concerted effort on the part of progressives to give social justice a chance. The NDP and Liberals have not offered Albertans platforms distinguishable one from the other since 1993 (when the Liberals under Decore ran on a Klein-like platform and the NDP supported the Lougheed-Getty status quo). They have a slightly different social class base and strength in different parts of the province. But until they work together, they are not serious factors in the provincial equation.

    The trade union movement in particular needs to take some responsibility for forcing a centre-left alliance. They are going to find themselves with Michigan or Wisconsin style legislation and will have no one to blame but themselves. Their positions on various issues are well researched, and the PIA, Parkland, and Friends of Medicare present even more detailed positions. But none of these groups are players in real Alberta politics because the people who think as they do are generally lost as to whether they should support the Liberals or the NDP or vote Tory to keep the New Neanderthals from taking power.

  7. While i humbly respect your intelligent opinion, the math does not lie. Most progressives, regardless of their political or policy leanings, have parked their vote in the tory party. The concerted effort and collaberation of all parties, including WR should be trying to inspire these voters and supporters to come to a better alternative. Uniting two small groups into a larger progressive group, but still small, keeps this new group in third place. The only question here is why should we settle for third place apathy? You will have an incoherent group, on an idea that most mainstream middleclass voters, Albertans, with families and minivans will scoff at? talk to avg Albertans, they will holdtheir noses and vote PC rather than vote in an unknown amalgamated progressive experiment. We need better ideas. Ideas and policies by armchair experts are not enough muscle. Albertans are tough to reach.. Does anybody remember the Gomery Inquiry? That was the demise of the Fed Libs.

  8. Q. of the Day (from CH)

    “Do you think that a merger of the AB Libs with the ND’s, Green and Alberta parties could beat the Tories in the next prov. election?

    Yes or No ?


    Yes 26.3% (453 votes)
    No 73.7% (1,269 votes)

    Here is a snap poll of what people think of a progressive merger, almost 75% say NO.

    Do any armchair geniuses have a comment? How about you Corey? Kent?

    As soon as you throw the words Green into there, most bumpkin Tory progressives will run yellow, hold their nose and vote Tory again, its a familiar taste, they are used to, better the devil they know than the one they don’t.

    Folks seem to be lukewarm at best to the idea.

  9. @political watcher

    A)It would be easier to take you seriously if you used your real name.

    B)How many elections have you personally ran as a candidate?

    C)How many elections have you worked on?

    D) How many thousands of doors have you knocked on speaking to average Albertan’s that don’t read political blogs or respond to online polls?

    E) How many labour organizations have you spoken too that have stopped donating/helping either party as their members are split between two camps?

    I also doubt that any merger would have us form government in one election, however It would be a hell of allot better then 9 seats, keep in mind that many of those 9 won by only a few hundred votes, including Liberal Leader Raj Sherman. A chance at Official opposition would be better then having all left of centre MLA’s fitting in a mini van.

    There are many of us that support some form of Co-Operation/Merger, However many have left all parties out of frustration, and many fear speaking out publically due to social ramifications. I encourage anyone who would like to help see this happen to email me @

  10. Thread’s over guys. Calgary Herald online poll came out showing the idea only two and a half times as popular as either the Liberals or NDP.

    You all got served.

  11. That sounds scientific! so people who read the calgary herald online and answer a poll feel it will only be 2.5 times more popular. First off both the NDP and Liberal party captured around %20 together, so does the poll suggest that 20X2.5=%50. I think this poll shows very little and has almost 0 scintific merit.

    A) better then less popular
    B) Hardly represents views of average Albertans
    C) I am very political and did not hear, nor can find the poll, so who has?

  12. Okay, there’s a lot of poll abuse going on here.

    First, the poll didn’t ask whether or not people think it’s a good idea, they asked whether the merged party could beat the Tories. What do you think the results would be if it was “Can the Liberals beat the Tories next election?” or “Can the NDs beat the Tories next election?”

    Do they make numbers that low?

    Second, it’s an online poll at the Calgary Herald. That’s both a self selecting sample, and a sample biased towards Calgarians and therefore Calgary – where the Liberals and NDs combined got 12.4% of the vote. So as already mentioned above, 26% is pretty damn good.

  13. Sure Corey, its an on line poll, I get that its not scientific, but it does echo a snapshot of the prevailing sentiment, you can’t deny that.

    But don’t think for a second, just because a group of supporters are all for a merger, that DOES NOT simply and linearly somehow translate into mainstream progressive votes. Sure you might still instill fringe progressives to vote for this, but you wont get the mainstream, centrist and right leaning progressives to join this, nor vote for it. It is a pipe dream a hundred miles wide and a half an inch deep.

    You are completely ignoring the “freak factor”, by that I mean, when average voters start to joke and jeer about this progressive amalgamation. When you throw words like “ND” and “Green” into any political amalgamation, the voters of Alberta will casually brush it off as though the lefties have taken over in some sort of desperate bid, that is how it will be painted and discredited, because most mainstream progressives from Toryland are politically close minded, when it comes to anything from the center or left of center. That very same lefty hysteria by the Tories is what stops mainstream progressives from voting other than Tory.(Lakes of Fire).

    So again, any ideas on how to convince Progessive Tories to leave Tory land? You got upwards of a few hundred thousand voters there. Not one of you seasoned, armchair geniuses, with such huge political depth and acumen have given even so much a shred of an idea on how to get the real voters. Till then, please stop showing all that greenery behind the ears.

    Any progressive merger (which will NOT include mainstream progressives from Tory Land) is an excellent way to perpetuate the status quo,..that being keeping Tories in power. Your numbers, guys just don’t add up.

    Some of you guys are treating this like some sort of High School Project and that must stop. Tory land has all of the progressive voters, the question, all of us geniuses must ask and answer, is how do we get them? They don’t belong in a conservative party. Amalgamations will alienate mainstream progressives even more. Don’t kid yourself, yes they will.

    @Stephen Anderson, I don’t need any of that experience, because at the end of the day, I know how most mainstream progressive voters voted, they voted for Toryland. Just look at the numbers, if you can read…61 seats.

    Again, can all of us geniuses come up with a way to inspire mainstream progressives from Toryland? An amalagamation won’t do it. No it won’t. I can do math. 4 + 5 = 0

  14. @Stephen A, i respect how some of you have become frustrated at the poor traction in the last few elections. Perhaps, being a part of any party is not for some of you guys. You guys may be better off serving Albertans by championing causes and policies and working on these with all progressive parties. Think of it, like a think tank. You can still serve Albertans, without the baggage of partisan politics. You wouldn’t have to joust with party members at all, but instead be true champions of progressive policies, ideas and help guard the hen house. You don’t need to be a party of any party to champion the cause of Albertans. Does it not beat being politically disenfranchised with so much political baggage? Ie Friends of Medicare, ie Democratic Renewal, ie CTF? You catch the drift? You can still be involved helping Albertans and keep a watch on the Foxes guarding the Hen House, all with out the baggage of internal party politics.

  15. Phu-ck the bullshit terms like Rugged Tribalism. You don’t win a battle, by destroying a team, you win by building it bigger and stronger. K-nt Hxhr is a rookie. K-nt made a monumental political blunder and has been taking bad advice.

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