Boring Jim Prentice might be what the Tories need

Low turnout, lack of interest overshadows Prentice’s win
Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race

Alberta’s next Premier, Jim Prentice, delivered his victory speech with his wife Karen at his side.

The  atmosphere was noticeably subdued as I walked into the large hall at Northlands Expo Centre that hosted the Progressive Conservative’s leadership event. It was 6:45 pm and there were probably 300 loyal party supporters scattered across the hall, which looked like it could comfortably fit 2,000.

By the time the results were announced  at 7:36 pm by PC Party president Jim McCormick, the crowd appeared to have grown to around 400. Crowded around the stage at the end of the cavernous hall, supporters of former bank executive and retired federal politician Jim Prentice cheered when it was announced that he received 17,963 votes, 77% of the votes cast in the two day online and phone-in vote.

It is a strong mandate from PC Party members, and would have been a landslide if not for the incredibly low voter turnout. Only 23,386 PC Party members bothered to vote in the 43-year governing party’s latest leadership contest, much lower than the 78,176 who voted in the party’s 2011 leadership contest and the 144,289 who voted in 2006. I am told that around a total of 42,000 memberships were sold in this race, resulting in a 54% turnout.

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta Leadership Race Vote

Jim Prentice scrums with the media after his victory speech.

While pundits and politicos predicted for months that there would be a low turnout, 23,386 is shockingly low, especially considering Mr. Prentice publicly set a benchmark to sell 100,000 memberships. Interest in the race to replace former Premier Alison Redford was dismal, and the other candidates – Thomas Lukaszuk with 2,681 votes and Ric McIver with 2,742 votes – were unable to generate much opposition to Mr. Prentice’s well-financed and insider-supported campaign.

Despite the excitement of Mr. Prentice’s supporters in the crowd, there was a weariness in the air and a feeling that even the PC Party’s most loyal activists are tired. Many of them are becoming aware of how hard the next election could be to win. The Wildrose leads in the polls province-wide and support for the New Democrats has grown in Edmonton since the last election. And while support for the long-governing Tories has not completely collapsed, it was hard to walk away from this event without the feeling that the PCs are at their weakest.

Mr. Prentice’s victory speech was not remarkable. In fact, it was boring and forgetful, but maybe a little boring is what the PC Party needs. After two years of endless scandals, backstabbing and controversy, I am sure most PC MLAs are looking for stability. And while Mr. Prentice is nothing close to exciting, he is confident and could be a stable hand who can attract new talent to the party.

The politicos and MLAs I spoke with were glad the leadership contest is over and hope to put the technical irregularities of the PC Party’s contracted online voting system behind them. Although it appears there are PC members who were unable to vote or even able to vote twice because of technical glitches, it is unlikely that Mr. Prentice’s majority would have been drastically altered.

After the celebrations die down, Mr. Prentice and his team of advisors will begin the process of transitioning into the Premier’s Office. The new Premier is expected to seek a by-election soon (it is suspected that more than one by-election could be called) and once he is sworn-in as Premier, a cabinet shuffle will occur.

Aside from term-limits for MLAs, Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign largely stayed away from details or promises, a point that no PC Party supporter I spoke with in the convention hall seemed worried about. In fact, some praised the lack of details and promises as a virtue and a good campaign strategy.

“By not making any promises, he won’t break any promises,” said one PC supporter.

So, as this unexciting summer leadership race comes to an end, it is difficult to say what a new Premier will mean for Alberta. While most Albertans wait and see, I am sure many of the loyal Tories who spent their evening in that large convention hall are hoping this fall will bring calm, stability, and maybe a little boring to their long-governing party.

7 thoughts on “Boring Jim Prentice might be what the Tories need

  1. Marie

    Reality Check
    The 2014 Alberta PC Leadership membership sales and voter turnout may have been the lowest in years but let’s keep in mind there were still almost twice as many votes for Jim Prentice as there were when Danielle Smith won the Wildrose Alliance Party of Alberta leadership race back in 2009.

    The PC’s approval rating has already increased since the end of May. And, in just over three months the Prentice campaign raised $1.8 million dollars – that’s approximately the same amount of money the WR raised in the entire year of 2013! (The parties’ next two quarterly fundraising reports ending September and December 2014 will provide some good insight.)

    I love when people talk about how the new Premier Designate was chosen by less than 0.5% of Alberta’s population like its Prentice’s fault people didn’t buy memberships and vote. People know how to get involved in the process and didn’t. That’s their personal choice. (By the way daveberta, did you buy a PC membership and vote in the leadership vote on Friday or Saturday?)

    The PC’s still have a long way to go before the next election to be sure, but so does the WR. The issues will be credibility of the leaders, quality of the candidates (the WR ones I currently see listed online are a bunch of no-names), fundraising, and the campaigns. The Wildrose still needs to EARN their votes. (Back in 2009 Danielle Smith honestly believed she was going to be Premier by the end of 2010!)

    It’s time for all politicians to stop believing their own press and deal in reality!

    Reply
  2. daveberta Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Marie.

    When Danielle Smith became leader of the Wildrose Party in 2009 that party had one MLA in the Legislature. The PC Party now has 59 MLAs and has been in government for 43 years. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. This is a very low turnout for the PCs no matter how you count it.

    The PC Party doesn’t have a problem raising money. It’s problem is that the Wildrose is raising just as much or more money. They are not used to having competition that can match them dollar for dollar (also, most Wildrose funds come in small individual donations, while the PCs rely heavily on large corporate donations).

    As for the 0.5% argument, this was an internal party leadership selection, not a general election. We live in a parliamentary system where parties choose their leaders internally, so the turnout was bound to be much smaller than a general election or an American-style primary vote. But it is still a sign of weakness that the PC Party was only able to generate 23,000 votes in the election to choose the next leader of Alberta. In June 2014, Mr. Prentice publicly set a benchmark to sell 100,000 memberships. I am told that only 42,000 were sold in total.

    You are correct the next election could be two years away, a long time in Alberta politics. The Tories are weak, but I suspect the Wildrose lead is not solid across the province. The soonest electoral challenge will be the by-election Mr. Prentice plans to run in. I expect the Wildrose and other parties will aggressively challenge him in that race.

    – Dave

    Reply
  3. Just saying

    Daveberta, even you have to admit, this win is like an open ended sole sourced contract with contractual terms of reference so loose and open, that the guy getting the contract is allowed to write the terms contract, or make them up as he goes along, write their own rules, do whatever work they like or do none and bill whatever amount they want, like an open blank cheque. The demographics of influx into Alberta and unpopularity of this party shows that it is trending downwards steadily and surely and at this rate, it will suffer a catastrophic electoral demise like the social credit party, despite corporate cash keeping trying to keep it going. I suspect the there will be a longer lineup on the WR front door, for those that are switching and want in. Its very reasonable to say that the AB tory party is becoming a very risky corporate bet now, the support is very predictably dwindling steadily downwards.

    Reply
  4. Linda

    Any idea how many members were on the books when the leadership race began Dave, thus what the total membership was at the time of the vote?

    Reply
  5. Thomas Ridgeway

    Is anyone else wondering why the 77% keeps looming over the PC party?

    Ed Stelmach’s approval rating in 2009 = 77%
    Alison Redford’s approval rating in 2013 = 77%
    Jim Prentice’s leadership vote in 2014 = 77%

    Are my numbers wrong or am I going crazy.

    Reply

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