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Alberta Politics

What lies ahead for Alberta’s political parties in 2021

With 2020 on its way out here is quick look at what might await Alberta’s political parties in 2021:

United Conservative Party: The UCP will continue pushing through a legislative agenda and ideological project that includes mass privatization of public services and public land, and big job losses for public sector workers.

Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)
Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)

The UCP’s inability to pivot off its agenda has been demonstrated clearly during the COVID-19 pandemic as Health Minister Tyler Shandro continued his fight against Alberta doctors, planned layoffs of thousands of nurses and health care workers, and schemed to privatize large swaths of the public health care system.

Kenney’s inconsistent approach to the pandemic has likely alienated him from both Albertans who would like to see more serious public health measures taken and those who think being required to wear a face-mask in public spaces is too far.

A federal election in 2021 might distract Albertans from the UCP’s mismanaging of the COVID-19 pandemic, so expect the UCP to ramp up attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals. Increasing attacks of the federal government and next year’s promised referendum on equalization and Senate nominee election could also serve as a distraction from poor economic growth and the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline permit by incoming United States President Joe Biden.

Kenney’s approval ratings took a big hit in 2020 and the UCP has dropped considerably in the polls since 2019. If their leader looks like he has become a liability for re-election in 2023 then expect a change at the top. Conservative parties in Alberta are ruthless with leaders who stop looking like winners, just ask Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

The good news for Kenney is that he is only two years into his government’s four year term in office which leaves him with some time to turn around his political fortunes. But the clock is ticking and the tire-kickers could soon be kicking.

Alberta NDP: It is not often that political leaders in Canada are given a second chance, but despite losing the 2019 election Rachel Notley remains in firm control of her New Democratic Party.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

Notley’s moderate NDP is leading or tied with the UCP is three of the four recent voter intention polls released during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and has maintained competitive fundraising levels, but the next election is still more than two years away.

The potential for strikes by public sector workers in 2021 could test the NDP’s political coalition. The NDP’s opponents will inevitably try to use any major labour disputes as a wedge between the party’s union activist wing and its more moderate and centrist supporters.

The key to an NDP victory in 2023 will be a breakthrough in Calgary, smaller urban centres like Lethbridge and Red Deer, and a small handful of suburban and rural ridings scattered across Alberta. The NDP swept those regions in 2015 and Notley has already signalled through her constant visits and social media posts that her focus in 2021 will be Calgary, Calgary, and more Calgary.

Alberta Party: Finding a new permanent leader should be the top focus of this tiny moderate conservative party. The Alberta Party has become home to a small group of disenchanted former Progressive Conservatives unhappy the combative tone and social conservative politics of the UCP. The party lost all its seats in 2019 but continues to poll around 10 per cent support in most surveys. In a two-party political environment, the Alberta Party needs to give Albertans a reason to vote for it that is beyond just not being the UCP or NDP.

Alberta Liberal Party: The Liberals not only need to find a new leader, they need to find a reason to exist. After forming Official Opposition for 19 years, the Liberal vote collapsed in 2012, saw almost all of its supporters migrate to Notley’s NDP in 2015 and lost its only seat in the Assembly in 2019. With the NDP now comfortably occupying the space held by the Liberals in the 1990s and 2000s, the Liberals need a raison d’être in Alberta.

Green Party: Yes, Alberta has a Green Party. The Greens have been issuing a steady stream of press statements that plant the party firmly to the left of the moderate NDP on climate change, the environment and pipelines. It seems unlikely that the party will make any electoral breakthroughs in the near future, but they could put pressure on the NDP to remember that it still has a progressive wing.

Wildrose Independence Party: Also looking for a new leader in 2021, the child of a merger between the Freedom Conservative Party and the Wexit group in 2020 is now led by former Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

While separatist sentiment appears to be waining the further time passes from the last federal election, Hinman has clamped on to the anti-mask and anti-COVID restrictions groups as his focus, appearing at demonstrations in the two cities.

A number of UCP MLAs have expressed similar views, leading some political watchers to believe that one UCP MLA in particular – Drew Barnes – could be auditioning for Hinman’s job if his public comments become too much for the UCP.

The other fringe separatist parties: The Alberta Advantage Party and Independence Party of Alberta are also looking for new leaders. Advantage Party leader Marilyn Burns, a former Wildrose supporter, resigned in the fall amid a leadership challenge and has announced plans to run for the position again. Former Wildrose constituency president Lenard Biscope is now interim leader.

Communist Party of Alberta: Carry on, Comrades.

Thoughts? What do you think awaits Alberta’s political parties in 2021?

6 replies on “What lies ahead for Alberta’s political parties in 2021”

Politically, this reminds me a bit of the time around 2008 when there were a number of fringe political parties on the right and growing discontent with the government. I wonder if those fringe parties will start to coalesce into something more substantial over the next year or two. If they do, that could be politically very significant.

The Alberta Party & the Alberta Liberal Party are fishing in the same narrow stream between NDP & UCP voters. In any rational world they’d merge.

That is not a viable combination, but do let me explain the difference between those parties.

The Alberta Liberal Party are progressives with centrist views, whereas the AP is predominately former members of the PC party, even Red Tories. They are NOT progressives, but mostly those who are without a provincial home since their party was co-opted by Kenney and the Wildrosers.

Also, Rachel Notley moved the ND party more to the centre, which captured a segment of Liberal voters, especially in the 2015 election.

While both ALP and AP are now politically ‘in the wilderness’ after losing all their seats in the 2019 election, it’s my fervent hope that the ALP will rise once again for those of us with truly centrist views!

I have wondered how much Jason Kenney will dare abuse the medical community once Covid has ended. When I read stories about how overwhelmed hospital staff is, and how they are definitely going above and beyond the call of duty, the idea of imposing cutbacks as soon as Covid ends seems like a heartless betrayal. A lot of UCP supporters will be seeing the dedication of these hospital workers firsthand; I am sure they have lost some of their zeal for bringing in cutbacks.

If the vaccine rollout proceeds as planned, and the vaccine does in fact work on the new variants that seem to be appearing, Covid concerns will hopefully start winding down in the fall of 2021. (Even writing that feels like I am tempting fate) At that point it will only be a year and a half until the next provincial election, which Mr. Kenney will also have to take into account.

Merry Christmas, Dave. Thank you very much for sharing your insightful comments on this great blog.

With regards to the party dumping Jason Kenney, I think there is a fundamental difference between Kenney & the UCP compared to the PCs of old. With the PCs, the party was bigger than any of its leaders, with the possible exception of Peter Lougheed, who basically built the party. The UCP, on the other hand, was built by Jason Kenney, so it is a little harder to imagine him being dumped. As well, with the exception of a few MLAs that Kenney inherited from the two legacy parties, Mr. Kenney very much appears to have selected candidates, who are now rookie MLAs, based on their willingness to obey their leader. As a result, if a mutiny is to occur it will have to be initiated by a veteran MLA from one of the legacy parties or from a UCP member outside of government.

Bob Raynard: Alberta’s premier was basically a reject in the CPC leadership. Nobody wanted the man behind the robocalls scandal. It’s also more difficult to cheat to win a federal party leadership race, as all Canadians are watching it. We still will see how the R.C.M.P investigation into this pans out.

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