December 17, 2015
By: Dirk Pranter, Provincial Affairs columnist, Calgary Sunherald
One year after nearly the entire official opposition crossed the floor to join Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives, the 44 year long governing party is expected to sweep the province for a record thirteenth election victory. Premier Jim Prentice is said to be preparing his party and its candidates for an early spring 2016 election.
According to Alberta’s fixed election date law, a provincial election must be called between March 31 and May 1, 2016.
The Wildrose MLA floor crossings on December 17, 2014 hurt the PCs in the polls in the first half of 2015. But after the Tories began to recover in the polls a fall cabinet shuffle brought two former Wildrose MLAs, Danielle Smith and Rob Anderson, into Prentice’s cabinet as Finance Minister and Justice Minister.
Public opinion polls now suggest most Albertans have embraced the Prentice Tories once again. The PCs now have the support of 77 percent of Albertans, according to the most recent Western Insite poll.
“A few months ago it looked like the Tories had a real fight on their hands but today they are back on top,” said Jake Randall, vice-president of Western Insite Inc. “Prentice really didn’t start resonating with Albertans until after May 2015,” he said.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior official in the PC Party admitted they were glad the provincial election wasn’t called in early 2015, as some party insiders had pushed for.
“We simply weren’t prepared to go to the polls in spring 2015,” the source said.
“We would have got smoked, boy, it would have been the end of us,” they said.
The hopes of New Democratic Party supporters were boosted when David Climenhaga defied expectations with a 67 percent landslide win for the NDP in a May 5, 2015 by-election in the Spruce Grove-St. Albert constituency.
Liberal MLAs Laurie Blakeman and David Swann added to the orange momentum on May 6 when they joined the NDP caucus, creating speculation that Rachel Notley‘s NDP could pose a serious challenge to the Tories in the next election.
But with recent polls showing the NDP back in their traditional range of 10 percent support, Albertans may never know what an NDP government looks like.
The Wildrose Party has wilted, with most of its support relegated to a handful of rural southern Alberta constituencies.
Wildrose leader Derek Fildebrandt remains a harsh critic of the PCs and is in talks to create a ‘real conservative alternative’ by merging his party with the right-wing Social Credit and Alberta First parties.
“Most Albertans are moderates and are very suspicious and uncomfortable with the kind of social conservative politics inside the Wildrose Party,” said Darlene Sinclair, professor of political science at Vermilion River University in Lloydminster.
Sinclair predicted that the PCs had successfully built a coalition of moderate and progressive minded urbanites that could keep the Tories in government for many decades to come. But she warned that even with high polling numbers, the Prentice government faces serious challenges.
Tory supporters are quick to defend Prentice from criticisms about the job losses caused by a downturn in the economy, tax increases and his refusal to make deep funding cuts to public programs.
Former Conservative MP Brian Jean, who will be running for the Tories in the Fort McMurray-Conklin constituency, said that Prentice is not to blame for job losses in the oil patch.
“It would be silly to believe that any Premier of Alberta, even Jim Prentice, has the power to control the international price of oil,” Jean said.
“It just doesn’t work like that, ” he said.
(Note: This article is a satirical take on what might have happened if the PC Party had waited until Alberta’s 2016 fixed election date to call the most recent provincial election. In reality, the PCs called the election one year early and Albertans elected Notley’s NDP with a majority government on May 5, 2015).