Tag Archives: Alberta Election 2015

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley NDP

One year ago today the NDP won in Alberta. The next day hell froze over.

The attention of most Albertans this week is rightfully focused on the wildfires that are raging through northern Alberta and the more than 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray who have fled to safer ground in the south. It is a testament to our resilience as Canadians that a mandatory evacuation order could be carried out in a community of 80,000 people without any violence or resistance.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Overshadowed by the wildfires, and rightfully so, is today’s anniversary of the major political earthquake that reshaped our province over the past year. On May 5, 2015, Albertans turned their backs on the Progressive Conservative regime that had governed since Peter Lougheed won in 1971 and replaced the old guard with a choice that would have been unbelievable in previous elections, the New Democratic Party.

It wasn’t always a forgone conclusion that Albertans would elect an NDP government. At points during last year’s campaign. Two polls released days before the writ was dropped showed the governing PCs and official opposition Wildrose Party in a race for first place with the NDP in a distant third. Disillusionment with an arrogant and entitled PC regime that had squandered the last oil boom and the pitch-perfect campaign led by Rachel Notley’s NDP resulted in a majority government.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

Those election results exposed a demographic shift, including a split between urban and rural Alberta. The NDP elected most of their 54 MLAs in Alberta’s fast-growing urban areas and central and northern rural Alberta. The Wildrose Party, led by former Member of Parliament Brian Jean won back most of the seats lost in the 2014 floor-crossings and made gains in rural Alberta. Jim Prentice‘s Tories earned 27 percent of the vote but fell victim to the first-past-the-post system and only elected 10 MLAs. The Alberta Party elected its first MLA, leader Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, and the Liberals were reduced to one MLA, interim leader David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

May 5, 2015 saw the election of the a record number of women, including nearly half of the MLAs in the newly minted NDP caucus. The soon to be appointed provincial cabinet would have gender parity, a first in Canada. A contingent of under-30 MLAs were elected, bringing a new sense of diversity into the stodgy Legislative Assembly. Openly gay and lesbian MLAs were elected. And soon after, expecting and new mothers would become a common sight on the floor of the Assembly. Our Legislative Assembly felt more reflective of Alberta than it had in previous years.

The tone of government had changed.

The NDP banned corporate donations to political parties, a move that would never have happened under the corporate-donation fuelled PC Party. The new government not only admitted it believed in Climate Change, it also announced plans to do something about it. The NDP introduced a progressive income tax system and raised corporate taxes. They also reinstated funding to education, health care and post-secondary education that was cut by the PCs in their pre-election budget.

Smart, articulate, tough and quick on her feet, Ms. Notley has proven to be the government’s greatest asset. The senior cabinet ministers surrounding her, Sarah Hoffman, Danielle Larivee, Shannon Phillips, Kathleen GanleyDavid Eggen, Deron Bilous, Joe Ceci and Brian Mason, to name a few, have developed into a stronger team over the past year.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta's 2015 provincial election.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta’s 2015 provincial election.

Getting off the royalty rollercoaster’ by fixing a revenue system that was over-reliant on natural resource royalties to fund the government’s operations budget is a central theme of the new government.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

A sharp decline in the international price of oil meant the new government faced higher private sector unemployment and decreased activity in the oil industry in our province.

The Alberta Advantage, a myth spun by conservative politicians and pundits over the past twenty years quickly turned into a disadvantage. The low taxes boasted by the previous government turned into a disadvantage when the price of oil dropped and left the province with a $10 billion shortfall in revenue.

Instead of slashing the budget, as the conservative opposition parties would have done, the NDP looked for outside advice from former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge. The budget tabled by Mr. Ceci included investments in infrastructure while keeping operating funding steady to avoid major service cuts and job losses that would increase the province’s unemployment levels.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

The NDP plan focuses on stability and job creation but it is yet to be seen whether those large deficits will be embraced by Albertans at the next election. The future of this government, like the PC government before it, may ultimately depend on the international price of oil.

The optimism of the new government masked a certain naivety. Transitioning into the role of government has been challenging.

The transition from a 4-MLA opposition caucus to majority government led the NDP to import senior political staff from across Canada, including those with experience working in Ottawa and for NDP governments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

Kathleen Ganley NDP Calgary Buffalo

Kathleen Ganley

The rushed introduction of new farm safety laws made the NDP look as if they were more interested in dragging rural communities into the 21st century rather than leading them in that direction.

Like something out of the 1950s, Wildrose MLAs and conservative newspaper columnists have become prone to red-baiting, accusing Alberta’s NDP government of holding communist or socialist sympathies. While some individual NDP MLAs have self-identified as socialists, the reality is the new government has been quite moderate and even small-c conservative at times. Ms. Notley has become one of Canada’s strongest advocates for oil pipelines and the NDP even decreased the small business tax from 3 percent to 2 percent in the recent budget.

Days before last year’s election I asked the question, ‘how bad would Alberta’s conservatives need to screw up for Albertans to elect an NDP government.’ We found out on May 5, 2015.

The NDP had been elected in Alberta. Hell had frozen over.

On the morning of May 6, 2015, Albertans woke up to a new government and an unwelcome spring snowstorm. Today, as most Albertans focus on wildfires instead of politics, we can only hope for a repeat of that snowstorm to put an end to the fires ravaging Fort McMurray.


The governments of Alberta and Canada will be matching individual donations made to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal to help the people impacted by the Fort McMurray wildfire. Click here to donate.

Five CEOs hold a press conference in a penthouse boardroom

It was a case of political friendly fire.

With only days left before Election Day, the anti-NDP fear campaign was in full-gear but this shot might have been the final nail in the coffin for Alberta’s 44-year old Progressive Conservative Party government.

On May 1, 2015, five prominent Edmonton business leaders and PC Party donors, including then-University of Alberta Board of Governors Chairman Doug Goss, held a press conference in the penthouse boardroom of a downtown office building to warn Albertans against rejecting the Progressive Conservatives in the May 5 election.

The press conference was held the morning after PC leader Jim Prentice spoke to 1,500 guests at a $5,000 per table fundraising dinner at the Shaw Conference Centre. Even as the international price of oil had already started a sharp decline, he warned the dinner guests that a New Democratic Party government would be a blow for the corporations in Alberta.

The businessmen sat united in their opposition to NDP leader Rachel Notley‘s promise to raise taxes on corporations from 10 percent to 12 percent. Before the election was called, the PCs had proposed increases to personal income taxes and the introduction of a health care levy, but refused to touch corporate taxes. [note: Albertans overall still pay the lowest taxes in Canada, even after the NDP implemented increases following their election win].

A public letter released by the businessmen and their prepared statements at the press conference were fairly reasonable from a conservative business perspective, but the moment the men began answering questions from the media the event went off the rails.

One of the men questioned why he was being asked to pay more. “I have someone telling me that I need to pay more tax. Why is it me? Why the corporation?

Another claimed that corporate donations to children’s hospitals and charities would halt if the corporate tax rate was increased.

While I am sure this group of philanthropists and community leaders sincerely believed they were helping their friend, Mr. Prentice, these were very rich statements coming from a group of men who were sitting around a boardroom table that might have been worth as much as my house.

Sometimes your best friends can be your worst enemies. In this case, these PC donors (and soon after, the Postmedia-owned newspapers in Alberta) inflicted a considerable amount of damage on the PC Party campaign during the final week of the election. It was an incredibly tone deaf message to send to an electorate tired of years of Progressive Conservative mismanagement, infighting and scandals.

The penthouse press conference solidified the narrative that as the economy was slowing the PCs were putting the needs of the wealthy and their corporations before the needs of ordinary Albertans. It appeared as though the conservatives had forgotten how to be populists.


This post is the third in a series remembering some key moments from Alberta’s historic 2015 election. May 5, 2016 marks one year since that election. Read the first and second instalments. 

NDP leader Rachel Notley speaks to a crowd of more than 2,000 Albertans at a May 4 election rally in Edmonton.

The election rally that convinced me Notley’s momentum was real

I think the PC Party needs a break from government and Albertans need a break from the PC Party,New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley told a massive crowd of more than 2,000 supporters at a May 3, 2015 rally at the Ramada Hotel on Kingsway Avenue in Edmonton.

You don’t have to repeat history on Tuesday, you can make history,” she said.

Alberta NDP RallyAn NDP rally the previous day in Calgary attracted hundreds of supporters, an occurrence that would have been unimaginable in previous elections.

In my years writing about Alberta politics, I have witnessed many large rallies outside the Legislature. Most were gatherings focused on specific issues but I had never been to a rally this large in support of an opposition party. In fact, I had never seen so many people at an election rally in Alberta, ever.

From the moment Ms. Notley entered the room and made her way through the cheering crowd was on their feet and eager to shake her hand or snap a selfie. The crowd erupted in cheers again when she took to the stage and spoke the words “my name is Rachel Notley and I am running to be Premier of Alberta.” It was something that no NDP leader had ever said convincingly but with Ms. Notley it was different. It felt like it could happen.

Standing in the crowd at the NDP rally, I spoke with two senior citizens who were very excited to experience their first political rally. It is also the first election they will vote NDP. They voted for the PCs in the last election and in many elections before that, they told me.

In the crowd, I also spotted long-time New Democrats, seniors, students, parents and children, union activists, academics and ordinary working Albertans. I also noticed a handful of former Liberal and Progressive Conservative activists who were excited about Ms. Notley’s leadership and the opportunity for a change in government.

It was a huge contrast to the Progressive Conservative rally I wrote about yesterday. Change was in the air for the first time in 44 years and it was exciting.

Although I was still reluctant to believe the NDP would actually form government, it was impossible to deny that the momentum behind Rachel Notley’s NDP was real.


This post is the second in a series remembering some key moments from Alberta’s historic 2015 election. May 5, 2016 marks one year since that election. The first post was published yesterday.

Documentary film about Alberta’s 2015 Election premieres on March 2, 2016

Filmmaker Kelly Wolfert will premiere his 23-minute documentary about Alberta’s historic May 5, 2015 election at a special screening on March 2, 2016 at Metro Cinema in Edmonton.

According to the event listing: “Day of Change is a look at the events taking place in Alberta’s provincial election May 5th, 2015. Following candidates new to politics, veteran politicians, supporters, volunteers, and members of various political parties, the film takes a personal, behind-the-scenes look at the NDP victory that changed the landscape of Alberta and Canadian politics like no election in recent history.

The screening is part of NorthWestFest, formerly known as the Global Visions Film Festival. Tickets can be purchased online.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta's 2015 provincial election.

2015 was a great year for Progressive Politics in Alberta

It was an exciting year to be a progressive in Alberta.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

May 5, 2015 marked the first time since the 1930s that a conservative party did not win a provincial election in Alberta. The defeat of the Progressive Conservative government, which had been in power since 1971, by Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party represented a significant shift in Alberta’s political environment.

October 19, 2015 marked the first time Calgarians elected Members of Parliament other than conservatives since 1968. Newly elected Calgary Liberal MPs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang were joined by fellow Liberals Amarjeet Sohi and Randy Boissonnault from Edmonton to represent Alberta in a federal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Thomas Dang MLA

Thomas Dang

As someone who has been writing about Alberta politics for ten years and advocating for more progressive politics in our province, this year’s provincial and federal elections produced strange and exciting results.

A year ago, I never would have predicted a real progressive political party would win a provincial election in Alberta in 2015. Actually, on June 1, 2014, I wrote that it was probably impossible. On January 28, 2015, I predicted the PCs would win another majority.

In this case, I am very pleased to have been wrong.

Albertans rejected a conservative political establishment that had become stagnant and entitled after years of controversy, scandals and resignations. But instead of turning to the right-wing Wildrose Party, which was a few embarrassing comments away from winning the 2012 election, Alberta voters embraced a moderate progressive platform put forward by Ms. Notley’s NDP.

Ms. Notley proved to be a smart, likeable and charismatic leader on the campaign trail. I would argue that she was then and remains now her party’s greatest asset.

Jim Prentice Alberta Premier

Jim Prentice

Voters opted for wholesale change by choosing 75 new MLAs, a huge turnover, to serve in Alberta’s 87 seat Legislative Assembly. The NDP started the election with 4 seats and ended it with 54 seats, including every seat in Edmonton, 15 seats in Calgary, seats in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Red Deer, and a handful in rural Alberta.

The PCs lost a total of 60 seats and were relegated to third place with 10 MLAs (9 after leader Jim Prentice resigned on election night) and the official opposition Wildrose won 21 seats, four more than the party won in 2012.

A record number of women were elected to the Legislature, including 26 in the 54 MLA NDP caucus and 7 of 13 cabinet ministers.

Thomas Dang, age 20, became the youngest MLA in Alberta history.

Three openly gay MLAs were elected, believed to be a first in Alberta politics.

Stephanie McLean NDP Calgary Varsity

Stephanie McLean

Stephanie McLean made headlines when she became the first MLA in Alberta history to be pregnant while in office.

Optimism was in the air as thousands of Albertans showed up to the Legislature Grounds to watch the new Premier and cabinet be sworn-in to office.

In their first session as government, the NDP banned corporate and union donations, restored $1 billion in health care, education and human services funding cuts made by the PCs, increased Alberta’s corporate tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent and announced a phased in $15 per hour minimum wage by 2018.

Ms. Notley demonstrated an ability to reach outside NDP circles for expert advice by appointing Alberta Treasury Branches President & CEO Dave Mowat to lead a Royalty Review Panel, respected economics professor Andrew Leach to lead a Climate Change Panel, and former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge to provide advice on infrastructure investment. Calgary Liberal MLA David Swann was asked to co-chair a review of the province’s mental health services and Joseph Doucet, Dean of the University of Alberta’s School of Business, was tapped to chair the Premier’s Advisory Committee on the Economy.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View

David Swann

The PC Party patronage machine ground to a halt. University and college boards of governors are still dominated with well-connected conservatives, but some high-profile appointees have been replaced. For example, Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. Rob Merrifield, a former Conservative MP, was replaced by Gitane De Silva, a former Deputy Minister of International and Intergovernmental Affairs and Canadian Consul General to Chicago.

On the financial front, the NDP government faces serious problems inherited from the old PC government.

After years of poor long-term planning and over-reliance on royalty revenues to fund the province’s operations budget, the sharp decline in the international price of oil had a huge impact on the government’s coffers. The drop in the price of oil has also led to significant job losses in Calgary and northern Alberta, which have impacted tens of thousands of Albertans.

Rob Merrifield Alberta Washington DC

Rob Merrifield

Instead of dealing with the drop in revenue by cutting budget funding and slashing public sector jobs, like the Wildrose and PC parties proposed, the NDP have decided to invest in public infrastructure, such as highway, school and hospital construction.

As well as keeping many Albertans in the construction industry employed during the economic downturn, investing in building public infrastructure now means the government will spend less time playing catch up when the next oil boom arrives. Ironically, this is similar to what Wildrose leader Brian Jean argued in favour of when he resigned as Fort McMurray’s MP in January 2014.

Not unexpected for a new government, especially for the first new government in 44 years, mistakes have been made. The NDP brought in a few too many out-of-province operatives to fill top political jobs, softened their position on carbon capture, and seriously fumbled Bill 6, the agri-industry and farm safety law. And rookie cabinet ministers planted their feet in their mouths on a few occasions, something they will need to learn to do less of in the new year.

Brian Jean Wildrose LeaderDespite a constant barrage of criticism from conservative critics, who claim the NDP election win was simply a fluke, a recent poll showed the NDP with a narrow lead in Calgary and a wide lead in Edmonton. The poll was not fantastic news for the governing party, but it undermines the argument that the NDP were elected by accident. The NDP appear to be developing a solid base of support among moderate and progressive voters in urban Alberta.

This election was a reminder that Alberta has defied its stodgy political stereotype and has rapidly become a young and urban province.

As Calgary political strategist Corey Hogan noted last week, “Alberta is the only province where baby boomers are outnumbered by their children.” The median age in our province is 36 years old, a number that is now more accurately reflected in the age of the government caucus.

The city of Calgary, long known for its conservative political roots, has now elected progressive politicians in the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government, something that would have been unheard of in past years.

According to Statistics Canada, in 1961, 53 percent of Albertans lived in rural areas. As of 2011, 83 percent of Albertans lived in urban centres with only 17 percent of our province’s population living in rural areas. This is a massive population shift that has and will continue to impact our political map for decades to come.

The year’s election was a rejection of establishment politics and a reminder that Albertans are largely politically moderate and more populist than conservative, which is an important distinction that the ruling PCs forgot after 44 years in power. It was also a reminder of how dramatically voters can abandon their traditional patterns of voting and embrace change.

This year was filled with many exciting firsts for progressive politics in Alberta. And while it is impossible to tell what the next year will bring in Alberta politics it is clear that our province changed in a significant way in 2015.


 

I had the pleasure of joining Ryan Jespersen on 630CHED on Dec. 16, 2015 to talk about the past year in Alberta politics. Take a listen and let me know what you think about what happened in 2015.

NDP leader Rachel Notley speaks to a crowd of more than 2,000 Albertans at a May 4 election rally in Edmonton.

An Orange Chinook howls in Alberta. Is the PC dynasty at its end?

How badly do the Progressive Conservatives need to mess up for Albertans to want to elect an NDP government? It may sound like a silly question in the context of Alberta politics, but we might find an answer on May 5.

Judging by the more than 1,500 Albertans who showed up at an NDP rally in Edmonton yesterday, the momentum behind Rachel Notley‘s NDP is real.

Jim Prentice Alberta Premier

Jim Prentice

“I think the PC Party needs a break from government and Albertans need a break from the PC Party,” Ms. Notley told the massive crowd at the Ramada Hotel on Kingsway Avenue. “You don’t have to repeat history on Tuesday, you can make history,” she said.

Legions of Albertans tired of Jim Prentice‘s long-governing PC Party have rallied around the NDP in this election. With the confident Ms. Notley at its helm and a moderate Lougheed-like platform, the NDP campaign in this election has been near flawless. With exception of a few bumps, including a fiscal miscalculation that was quickly fixed and one candidate’s past praise of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the NDP machine has run smoothly.

In contrast, the PC campaign has appeared distant, robotic and fraught with controversy. The latest controversy has forced Mr. Prentice to call for a review of MLA expenses. Metro Edmonton uncovered the expenses last week, which included one Edmonton PC MLA who expensed $12,500 for a Christmas Party.

‘The PCs sound, in fact, like Social Credit Premier Harry Strom, the one they beat in 1971,’ wrote Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid. Albertans young enough to have voted in the last election are at least 65 years old, meaning that most voters will not remember the last time we had a change in government in Alberta, 43 years ago.

Mr. Prentice wanted this election to be about his spring budget, but Albertans appear to have decided this election is about trust and acceptability, two areas where the PCs have a poor track record.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

Standing in the crowd at the NDP rally, I spoke with two senior citizens who were very excited to experience their first political rally. It is also the first election they will vote NDP. They voted for the PCs in the last election and in many elections before that, they told me.

If the Orange Chinook is real, what will the results look like on election night?

Most media coverage since the leaders’ debate has focused on the NDP and PC parties, but outside of the major urban centres, Brian Jean‘s conservative Wildrose Party is expected to be a big factor. You only need to take a quick drive outside Edmonton City Limits and you will immediately notice the campaign signs change from NDP orange to Wildrose green.

The PCs have placed third behind the NDP and Wildrose parties in most recent polls, but it would be foolish to predict a that party’s defeat even with only on day left in the election campaign. After 43-years in government, the PC Party Establishment is pulling out all the stops to ensure it wins re-election, including its recent fear campaign against the NDP.

It is also important to remember that the constant stream of polls showing the NDP leading the Wildrose and PC parties might not necessarily be reflected in the number of MLAs elected in our first past the post system (as we saw in the 2012 election when the Wildrose Party earned 34% of the province-wide vote and only 19% of the seats in the Assembly).

If a party’s support is too concentrated in one area of the province, it may win seats but not enough to form a majority government. And if a party’s support is too thinly spread across the province, it could be shut out.

On May 5 we will find out if Albertans are ready to take a break from the PC Party and embrace an Orange Chinook. It could be Alberta’s most interesting election night in 43 years.

Sunday Night candidate nomination updates in Alberta

Sarah Hoffman Edmonton Rachel Notley NDP

Sarah Hoffman endorsed Rachel Notley when she entered the NDP leadership contest on June 16, 2014.

Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Sarah Hoffman is expected to make an announcement on Monday, January 19 that could signal a jump into provincial politics. Speculation is rampant that Ms. Hoffman could be announcing plans to seek the New Democratic Party nomination in the Edmonton-Glenora constituency. The NDP have never elected a MLA in Glenora, but the party saw its support in the constituency increase from 15% in 2008 to 25% in 2012.

Ms. Hoffman was first elected as a trustee on the Edmonton Public School Board in 2010 and currently serves as chairperson. In 2014, she endorsed Rachel Notley for the leadership of the NDP.

With the Progressive Conservatives planning to complete candidate nominations in all 87 constituencies by March 15, 2015, there have been plenty of announcements since my previous update:

Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater: Athabasca 94.1 The River broadcaster Victor Mario Kaisar tweeted that Jeff Johnson has announced intentions to run for re-election. Mr. Johnson was first elected in 2008 and is currently serving as Minister of Seniors.

Bonnyville-Cold Lake: Dixie Dahlstedt posted an announcement on her Facebook page that she has withdrawn from the Wildrose nomination contest.

Calgary-Northern Hills: Mortgage broker Aryan Sadat has launched his campaign for the PC nomination in Calgary-Northern Hills. The constituency is currently represented by PC MLA Teresa Woo-Paw, who has yet to announce whether she will seek the nomination.

Calgary-Nose Hill-MackayNeil Brown announced on Twitter that he plans to seek the PC nomination. Mr. Brown was first elected in 2004.

Calgary-Shaw: Arch-conservative activist Craig Chandler continues his campaign to become the PC candidate in the next election. Mr. Chandler is expected to face Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Jeff Wilson for the PC nomination.

In 2007, Mr. Chandler won the PC nomination in the former Calgary-Egmont but was later removed as a candidate after publicly commenting that Albertans who did not like conservative culture or politics should move back to where they came from.

Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills: Local PC Party Association President Darrell Younghans and Jeff Dechaine have declared intentions to seek the PC nomination in this constituency. The area is currently represented by Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw.

Lacombe-Ponoka: Lacombe area resident Peter Dewit announced in December 2014 that he plans to seek the PC nomination. Mr. Dewit might face off against Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Rod Fox, who has yet to publicly announce whether he plans to seek re-election.

Sherwood Park: PC MLA Cathy Olesen announced on Twitter that she plans to seek her party’s nomination for the next election. Ms. Olesen tweeted that PC Party regional vice president Sue Timanson is challenging her for the nomination.

Spruce Grove-St. Albert:  Incumbent PC Spruce Grove-St. Albert MLA Doug Horner told the St. Albert Gazette that he would make his intentions about running again known by this week. The former Finance Minister was first elected in 2001.

West Yellowhead: Finance Minister Robin Campbell announced on Twitter that he will seek the PC Party nomination for re-election. Mr. Campbell was first elected in 2008.


 

I have added these updates to the list of nominees and nomination candidates planning to run in Alberta’s next general election. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if there are additions to the list. Thank you.

Election Alert! PCs set March 15 nomination deadline!

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race

Jim Prentice celebrates his victory in the PC Party leadership contest on September 6, 2014.

The Progressive Conservatives gave hints today that they could be preparing for a Spring 2015 provincial election.

Reported by the Calgary Herald and confirmed by sources close to this blogger, the PC Party has set a deadline for candidates to be nominated in all 87 provincial constituencies by March 15, 2015. The Herald also reports that the PC Party has scheduled a “large number” of nominations to take place on February 21, 2015. The early nominations would put the PCs in a position to call an election in Spring 2015, and demonstrates the folly of the province’s fixed election laws.

The news of an updated nomination schedule was preceded by news that the PC Party was extending the expiry dates of all party memberships purchased in 2014 to December 31, 2015. In an email from PC Party president Terri Beaupre, party supporters were told that Wildrose supporters can now exchange their memberships for PC Party memberships. The PC Party is said to have sold just more than 40,000 memberships during its lacklustre 2014 leadership contest.

The quick nomination deadline will showcase the PC Party’s impressive organizational capacity, especially in the wake of the mass defection of Wildrose MLAs on December 17, 2014. By extending the membership expiry dates by one year, Albertans who purchased memberships last year will not need to be convinced to renew in order to vote in the 2015 candidate nomination contests.

March 15 will come quickly for some PC MLAs, especially the Wildrose floor crossers, who have barely had time to introduce themselves to their new local party members. Some new PC MLAs, like Danielle Smith, who is currently on vacation in Mexico, are expected to face strong nomination challenges from annoyed PC Party supporters in their constituencies.

The quick nomination timeline will also force some long-time PC MLAs to decide whether they are going to try and seek re-election. Lethbridge-East PC MLA Bridget Pastoor, who crossed the floor from the Liberals in 2011, announced this week that she would not seek re-election. Attention will also turn to the gang of former PC cabinet ministers who sit in the backbencher thanks to Premier Jim Prentice‘s September 2014 cabinet shuffle.

It is suspected that former cabinet ministers, such as Doug Horner, Doug Griffiths and Fred Horne, can expect to be nudged aside in order to make room for new candidates as Mr. Prentice attempts to rebrand the long-governing PC Party in his own image.

The early election call will put the opposition parties in a tough situation.

Fresh from their own leadership contest, Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats have only nominated ten candidates in 87 constituencies. The Liberals and Alberta Party have not yet started their candidate nomination process. The Liberals had originally planned to hold their first nomination meeting for January 24 in Edmonton-Mill Woods, but cancelled the event soon after it was scheduled.

Numerous Wildrose candidates have withdrawn their candidacies, leaving the party with 16 nominated candidates since the floor crossings.

The March 15 date is also perilously close to the earliest date the leaderless Wildrose Party has set to select its new leader, March 17. Rumours circulated on social media today that offensive conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders is considering running for the official opposition party’s leadership. Mr. Anders candidacy would be a blessing for the PCs and a deathblow for the Wildrose.

Financial disclosures submitted to Elections Alberta are expected to be released in the coming weeks and will reveal the financial situation of Alberta’s political parties. The Tories will report to have raised a considerable sum of money in 2014, as will the Wildrose Party, which is said to still have $300,000 in their election war chest.

With March 15 less than two months away, Mr. Prentice may seek to use the Spring provincial budget as an election platform, as the PC Party has in the past. Relying on a disorganized opposition and using hyperbole to fan fears of an economic downturn, Mr. Prentice is in a strong position to lead his party to win its 14th consecutive election.

This is a stunning turnaround from six months ago, when the PCs were rocked by an endless string of scandals and were trailing the Wildrose Party in the polls and in fundraising. The PC Party’s apparent recovery serves as an important reminder to political watchers not to underestimate the 43-year governing PC Party.

Could the Wildrose collapse mean an early 2015 election?

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC

Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and her new boss, PC Party Premier Jim Prentice.

This week’s defection of nine Wildrose MLAs to the Progressive Conservative Caucus has drastically impacted Alberta’s electoral map. The governing PCs now hold 72 of 87 electoral constituencies with the remaining opposition consisting of 5 Wildrose MLAs, 5 Liberal MLAs, 4 New Democrats and 1 Independent MLA.

Preston Manning

Preston Manning

The mass-floor crossing, encouraged by Conservative Godfather Preston Manning, could increase the likelihood of an early 2015 general election. Now with 72 MLAs, the PCs are in a position to quickly nominate candidates across the province and take advantage of an opposition in disarray by calling a snap election early in the new year.

With Premier Jim Prentice increasingly warning of Alberta’s tough economic times, it is not far fetched to believe the PCs could seek a new mandate earlier than the 2016 fixed-election period. There is suspicion that Mr. Prentice wants to take advantage of the low price of oil in order to impose budget cuts before the price exits the “price trough” and begins to rise.

Rob Anderson MLA Airdrie PC WIldrose

Rob Anderson

NDP MLA Brian Mason and blogger David Climenhaga suggest a snap election could be called in early January 2015, but it could be more likely the Tories would wait until February or March.

In their 43 years in government, it has been common for the PCs to table a provincial budget in February or March and then immediately drop the Writ of election in order to use the budget as their de-facto campaign platform. This timeline would also allow for an early 2015 cabinet shuffle to make room for floor-crossers Danielle Smith and Rob Anderson, and allow the Tories time to build their message around a “tough economic times” budget/campaign platform.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

An early election would also allow Mr. Prentice to attract new candidates and force PC MLA’s too closely associated with former premier Alison Redford into early retirement (ie: Doug Horner, Fred Horne, Sandra JansenDoug Griffiths).

Mr. Prentice may also want to hold an election before more information is released by the R.C.M.P. regarding their investigation into Ms. Redford and her staff. The CBC reported on November 4, 2014 that a Justice Department internal review concluded Ms. Redford could face criminal charges if allegations about her use of government airplanes are proven by an RCMP investigation.

Doug Horner

Doug Horner

The possibility of an early election should be a wake-up call for Alberta’s fractious non-conservative opposition parties, who are mostly contained within Alberta’s two largest cities. The lack of conservative vote split that the New Democrats, Liberals and Alberta Party had hoped to capitalize on may have vanished the moment Ms. Smith crossed the floor.

One potential speed bump to an early election could be dissent within the PC Caucus to the Wildrose MLA floor-crossing. I am told that more than a few PC MLAs are not pleased with their new colleagues of convenience, who have spent the past two years attacking and embarrassing them as the opposition. If Mr. Prentice suspects this internal dissent is potentially explosive, he may decide to hold off an election until tensions inside the PC Caucus cool down.

Fred-Horne-Alberta

Fred Horne

It is yet to be seen if the hostility to the PC-Wildrose Caucus merger – including the RecallDanielle campaign – will die down or whether it will manifest itself into a real backlash at the polls. This could have a big impact on whether an early election is held. The defection has certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of many Albertans, but the political maneuver removes the most likely alternative that voters had to send a message to the Tories.

Despite having the luxury of a government-in-waiting for the past two years, it appears that the PC Party are once again are on a trajectory to form another massive majority and extend the their 43-year reign.

Wildrose candidates?
Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

Before the mass floor-crossing, Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party had nominated candidates in 28 constituencies. Following the leader-led defection, the number of nominated Wildrose candidates has dropped to 18.

Many of the party’s now-former MLAs were already nominated to run under the Wildrose banner in the next election. Of the five remaining Wildrose MLAs, only Drew Barnes, Pat Stier and Rick Strankman have been nominated to run in the next election.

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth, a former five-term PC MLA who crossed the floor to the Wildrose in 2010, has announced she will not seek re-election.

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose

Shayne Saskiw

And Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Shayne Saskiw‘s intentions remain unknown. It is suspected that Mr. Saskiw was waiting until after the Lakeland federal Conservative nomination to make a decision about staying in the Wildrose Caucus. His wife, past Wildrose candidate Shannon Stubbs, won the nomination late last week.

It is also likely that some of the already nominated Wildrose candidates will re-think their decision to run under that party’s banner in the next election. I am told that Edmonton Catholic School District Trustee Laura Thibert dropped out as the Wildrose candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods earlier this month.

Jeff Wilson MLA Calgary-Shaw

Jeff Wilson

In Wetaskiwin-Camrose, nominated Wildrose candidate Gordon Hatch has dropped out of the race and endorsed incumbent PC MLA Verlyn Olson. And in Grande Prairie-Smoky, Wildrose nomination candidate Greg Tymchyna has dropped out in response of the ‘Wildrose-PC merger.’

But in Edmonton-McClung, Steve Thompson announced on his Facebook page that he would remain the Wildrose candidate and will challenge PC MLA David Xiao in the next election.

The NDP have nominated 10 candidates, not including their four MLAs and the Liberals have not yet started their candidate nomination process. Two Liberal MLAs, Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang, are leaving provincial politics to run as federal Liberal candidates in next year’s federal election.

Of the floor-crossers, none have publicly declared their plans to run for re-election as PC candidates, but many will try. And despite Mr. Prentice’s promised pledge of endorsement for their candidacies, the new PC MLAs could still face nomination challenges from their former opponents on the constituency level.

In Calgary-Shaw, arch-conservative activist Craig Chandler has already announced plans to seek the PC nomination, challenging Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Jeff Wilson.