What we know:
The last provincial General Election was held 2 years, 9 months and 3 days ago on April 23, 2012.
The Election Amendment Act introduced by Wetaskiwin-Camrose Progressive Conservative MLA Verlyn Olson and passed on December 6, 2011 legislated that a General Election would be held between March 1 and May 31, 2012, and in the same three-month period in the fourth calendar year thereafter. This means that the next general election should be held between March 1 and May 31, 2016.
In accordance with our parliamentary system of government, the Election Amendment Act also stated that nothing in the law “affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.” This means that Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell could issue a writ of election and dissolve the Legislative Assembly whenever he is asked to do so by Premier Jim Prentice. It would be highly irregular for a Lieutenant Governor to deny a Premier’s wish to issue a writ of election.
Election campaign periods in Alberta last 28 days. Section 39 (d) of the Election Act states: “the 28th day after the date of the writ is the day on which voting is to take place, or if the 28th day is a holiday, the next following day not being a holiday.”
March 10 is when the Legislative Assembly is scheduled to reconvene for the spring sitting according to the sessional calendar. March 15 is the PC Party deadline to have candidates nominated in all 87 constituencies. “…by the end of March” is when Justice Minister Jonathan Denis announced the 2015-2016 provincial budget would be tabled in the Assembly. The last four provincial budgets have been tabled on Thursdays. If this trend continues, the budget would be tabled on March 19 or 26, 2015. From March 30 to April 12 the Assembly pauses and MLAs return home for a “constituency break.” May 18 is Victoria Day, a statutory holiday.
The nomination of PC candidates in all 87 constituencies by March 15 suggests the governing PC Party is preparing for an election this spring. Elections Alberta financial disclosure reports show the PC Party raised more than $1.3 million in the final quarter of 2014, meaning the the party has a substantial more funds available than any of the opposition parties.
On January 16, 2015, the Calgary Herald reported that Mr. Prentice said he intends to seek “a clear mandate from the people” to deal with the provincial government’s revenue shortfall. It is hard to speculate this means anything but calling a spring election with the budget as the defacto PC Party platform.
In his media statement on January 15, Mr. Denis said that the “government will present a spring legislative agenda,” which would suggest the Assembly would be required the Assembly to sit for at least two or three weeks to pass new laws before dissolving for an election. Bill 10, the controversial Gay-Straight Alliance law, is the only piece of government legislation remaining from the fall session.
A big question is how soon the PCs will wait after tabling the budget to call an election. In 1997 and 2008, the PCs called an election soon after tabling the budget in the Assembly and used the provincial budget as a defacto campaign platform.
The constituency break from March 30 to April 12 would allow PC MLAs and cabinet ministers to travel the province on government business to test reaction to the budget. The extra few weeks would also allow PC candidates to get organized and allow cabinet ministers to join them at events in their constituencies.
An spring election would also take place before the Official Opposition Wildrose Party is able to choose their new leader. The Wildrose Party has scheduled their leadership vote for June 6, 2015. This means that the Official Opposition Party may not have a permanent leader during the next election (interim leader Heather Forsyth is retiring from politics).
If an election is called after a budget is tabled on Thursday, March 19, the election would be held on Thursday, April 16. If an election is called after a budget is tabled on Thursday, March 26, the election would be held on Thursday, April 23. And if the election is called after MLAs return from their “constituency week,” on Monday, April 13, then an election would be held on Monday, May 11.
But until we know for sure, it is all speculation.