Tag Archives: Strategic Voting

Will by-election losses teach Alberta’s progressive parties basic math?

Alberta Progressive Party

Alberta’s non-conservative opposition is represented by the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party and the Alberta Party.

Fast forward to 10:00 p.m. on  October 27, 2014. The ballots have been counted in Alberta’s four provincial by-elections and the two main conservative parties – the governing Progressive Conservatives and official opposition Wildrose Party – have taken the largest share of the votes.

Once again the handful of “progressive” opposition political parties were  left sitting on the sidelines when the ballots were counted.

It is an easy scenario to imagine. As voters head to the polls in the Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud by-elections today, it appears that the Alberta Party, New Democratic Party and Liberal Party will largely be relegated to third, fourth or fifth place in most races.

Susan Wright LIberal Calgary-Elbow

Susan Wright

While I recognize the argument against vote splitting is not perfect, it has created a convenient “divide and conquer” situation for the PC Party for decades. But with the conservative vote is now split between the PCs and Wildrose, none of the progressive parties on their own appear strong enough to take advantage of this division.

In Calgary-Elbow, the constituency formerly represented by Alison Redford, a progressive candidate should have a shot of winning. The Liberals won Elbow in a 2007 by-election when they were the main opposition to the PCs and held onto it until 2008.

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA Calgary ElbowGreg Clark Alberta Party MLA Calgary Elbow

Greg Clark

But seven years later, the progressive opposition is represented by two excellent candidates in Alberta Party leader Greg Clark and Liberal Susan Wright. Both who are likely to draw votes away from each other, allowing Education Minister Gordon Dirks to win.

In Edmonton-Whitemud, a traditionally strong PC voting constituency, the NDP and Liberals have both put forward strong candidates in Dr. Bob Turner and Dr. Donna Wilson. While it is unlikely that either candidate would defeat PC candidate and former mayor Stephen Mandel on their own, the presence of the two progressive candidates on the ballot further divides the opposition.

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election

Dr. Bob Turner

On Saturday evening, the Liberal Party published a press release claiming an Alberta Party supporter tried to broker some sort of deal with the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Elbow. The Liberal claims are flimsy and it is unclear what sort of electoral deal could be arranged in the few days before an election (it would be too late to remove a candidate’s name from a paper ballot).

The four by-elections are being held in urban constituencies where the PC Party has enjoyed strong support for decades. And the argument could be made that there are a handful of constituencies in Alberta where the non-conservative opposition parties would be more competitive in a by-election.

But in the end, it comes down to basic math.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre MLA Liberals

Kent Hehr

Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr penned a thoughtful guest post for this blog in December 2012, in which he expressed his concerns about vote-splitting:

As a provincial politician committed to many of the same progressive principles as the three above-noted candidates, what did I learn from this? Well, I think I’ve learned basic math. The center/center-left in this province will not form government until we are in one big tent party. At this moment in time, and objectively looking at the provincial platforms of the progressive parties, we are for all intents and purposes also a distinction without a difference.

In the last election the NDP, Liberals, Greens and Alberta Party agreed on policy 95% of the time. We should all be together in one big tent; there is less difference between all of our political parties than there is between the different wings of the PC government.

What keeps us apart is rugged tribalism that leads to infighting between us and keeps our guns pointed squarely at each other instead of focusing our fire on the right-wing in this province. We tend to identify with our brands and not necessarily the values that we share. Let me be the first to say, I’m putting down my gun, and am open to all conversations with no preconditions. We need to figure out how we can come together in a big tent party. Otherwise, we are wasting our time. It’s math.

Tiny Alberta Progressive Parties need to get their act together

Alberta Progressive PartyWhat do the Alberta Liberals, New Democrats, Alberta Party and Green Party have in common?

None of these parties will form government after the next election.

Premier Alison Redford

Alison Redford

As Albertans prepare for another electoral showdown between two conservative parties – the long-governing Progressive Conservatives and the opposition Wildrose Party – many non-conservative voters and voters looking for an alternative are left confused and frustrated about their options.

If you are lucky enough to live in one of the nine constituencies already represented by a Liberal or New Democrat MLA, or the small handful of other constituencies they have a realistic shot at winning, your ballot options may be simpler. But if you live in a constituency where the two parties are competing for the same small pool of votes, or more likely their support is almost non-existent, you may not be looking forward to the next election.

Hordes of traditional Liberal and NDP voters became ‘two-minute Tories’ when they joined the PC Party to vote for Alison Redford in that party’s leadership race in 2011. Many of these temporary Tories then helped save the PC Party from electoral defeat in the 2012 election by stopping the right-wing Wildrose from forming government.

Kent Hehr MLA Calgary-Buffalo

Kent Hehr

The big-tent PC Party rewarded their new electoral coalition of progressive voters by turning on the issues dear to them – slashing funding to colleges and universities, passing drastic anti-labour laws and attacking front-line public sector workers. Since the last election, through their actions or their silence, PC MLAs have done near everything in their power to alienate the very people who saved their political dynasty.

So, unless you are the type of progressive voter who enjoys being punished for your vote, your realistic options for the next election may feel limited. Other than swallowing your pride and voting for the Wildrose Party, what are the options for progressive voters?

The NDP are in the midst of a leadership race to replace outgoing leader Brian Mason. The Liberals are feeling good after their weekend annual general meeting and selection of new president, Shelley Wark-Martyn (who was a cabinet minister in Bob Rae’s Ontario NDP government in the early 1990s). Alberta Party leader Greg Clark penned an open letter to the Liberals, asking them to join his party.

Janet Keeping Alberta Green Party

Janet Keeping

But regardless of the good feelings and potential for minor electoral gains, none of these parties are in a position to form government in the next election. And this is a big problem. While the moderate and progressive opposition parties compete in a handful of constituencies in Calgary, Lethbridge and Edmonton, the two conservative parties are competing in a province-wide campaign.

Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr‘s  proposed a party merger in December 2012 and was quickly dismissed by Liberal and NDP stalwarts. A new party could provide an attractive home for long-time PC voters looking for a less conservative alternative to the Wildrose Party. Although this may sound like a sensible option, personality conflicts remain to largest roadblock to a merger.

Some parties have already proposed ideas to help progressive candidates win. Green Party leader Janet Keeping has decided to run in Calgary-Fort rather than challenge Liberal MLA David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View in the next election. This argument assumes that support between parties will automatically carry over to a single candidate, which is not always the case.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View

David Swann

It seems that a bigger problem is our winner-takes all first-past-the-post electoral system that creates results that are not a fair reflection of how Albertans voted. For example, in the last election, PC MLA David Dorward was elected in Edmonton-Gold Bar with only 33% of the votes cast in that constituency (49% of the voters in Gold Bar voted NDP or Liberal).

For now, we are stuck with the current system, but change the system to single-transferable vote or proportional representation system and we might not be having this same conversation.

In a province as young, dynamic and prosperous as Alberta, there is little excuse for not having a progressive party able to compete on a province-wide level – for government! If progressive voters cannot rely on the small opposition parties to figure it out on their own, they need to begin demanding an alternative from the parties and their stalwarts who are standing in the way of real progress.