Tag Archives: Unite the Left

Premier Rachel Notley speaks to a crowd of 700 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in downtown Calgary earlier this week.

PCs don’t need the Wildrose to win, NDP should watch their Liberal flank

Uneventful weeks have become rare in Alberta politics and this week in particular has been uniquely interesting.

We started with the release of political party fundraising data from Elections Alberta showing the NDP raised more funds in the last quarter than any of the conservative parties combined, a first. This news was followed by a State of the Province address from Premier Rachel Notley and an oddly curious poll showing the Progressive Conservatives with a 13 point lead in support ahead of the NDP and the Wildrose Party.

The telephone poll conducted by the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College, which was in the field from from October 1 to 8, 2016, showed the formerly governing PCs with 38.4 percent support. The survey showed the Wildrose Party in second place with 25.7 percent and the NDP in a distant third-place with 19.7 percent. It is important to look at polls with a grain of salt, especially ones which deviate dramatically from other polls, but it is important to recognize that polls can be indicative of trends.

Here are a few thoughts and observations:

1) NDP electoral coalition is fraying
We are still two or three years away from the next election so the NDP are smart to avoid focusing on any horse race polls but they should be concerned.

There are signs that moderate voters, who were a key part of the NDP’s winning coalition in 2015, are migrating to the PCs and Liberal parties. The NDP need to ask themselves why, only 17 months after their election, they appear to have lost nearly half their supporters.

Ms. Notley tried to bolster support for her government’s agenda through the State of the Province Address delivered to a crowd of 700 at downtown Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall. She used the opportunity to reiterated her commitment not to make the sort of funding cuts to health care and education that Albertans could expect her Conservative opponents to make if they were in government.

The NDP need to take a hard look at why key elements of their government agenda, including some of their flagship policies, might not be resonating with the Albertans who voted them into office. This may require a more thoughtful and aggressive communications strategy and putting Ms. Notley front and centre is a good start to remind Albertans why they voted NDP. She is their greatest asset.

2) PCs don’t need to merge with the Wildrose Party to win the next election 

Having the NDP drop into third place in the polls weakens the argument promoted by Jason Kenney and groups like the Manning Centre that the PC and Wildrose parties need to merge in order to defeat the NDP in the next election.

It is probably more true that the Wildrose Party needs to merge with the PC Party in order to break the ceiling it has reached under Brian Jean’s leadership. But this poll would suggest that the PCs do not need to merge with the Wildrose Party in order to win the next election.

Despite both parties being conservative in philosophy, the PCs and Wildrose hold fundamentally different views on issues ranging from climate change to social issues to education and health care. The strength of the PC Party during its 44 years as government was its ability to attract a broad coalition of conservative, moderate and liberal voters. Everything the Wildrose Party has done over the past 17 months indicates the leadership of that party is not interested in building a broad coalition of Albertans.

We should expect support for the PCs and Wildrose Party to fluctuate over the next few months as the PCs choose their next leader. If the PCs anoint a more right-wing social conservative leader on March 18, 2017, they could drive moderate voters back into the NDP coalition.

3) Watch out for the Liberals

An unexpected result of a decline in NDP support could be a resurgence in support for the Alberta Liberal Party, which will be choosing a new leader in early 2017. According to the survey, Liberal support is at 9 percent up from an abysmal 4 percent in the May 2015 election. The popularity of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is likely part of the provincial Liberal Party’s small boost, which saw the party’s candidate place a close third in a by-election earlier this year.

A significant part of the NDP’s winning coalition from the 2015 election was made up of former Liberal voters who abandoned their party in favour of the PCs in the 2012 election (in order to stop a Wildrose victory). It appears that many of those moderate voters may have become disenchanted with the NDP and have migrated back to the Liberals, and the PCs, for the time being.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca blogger David Climenhaga wrote earlier this week, the loss of this vote may signal to the NDP that “[m]aybe it’s time to start talking about uniting the left again.


Speaking of Liberals, it was announced today that Edmonton lawyer Kevin Feehan has been appointed as a Judge on the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta. Mr. Feehan was serving as co-chair of the Alberta Liberal Party’s leadership selection process, a position he will likely have to vacate due to his judicial appointment. Mr. Feehan is the brother of Richard Feehan, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford and Minister of Indigenous Relations.

The Liberals replaced Calgary leadership co-chair Nirmala Naidoo last month when she resigned to join the campaign team trying to elect Sandra Jansen to the leadership of the PC Party.

Alberta Politics Round-Up: Redford and the Opposition

Premier Alison Redford Alberta

Premier Alison Redford

An investigation into former Premier Alison Redford‘s use of government airplanes has been closed and no charges will be laid, the RCMP announced yesterday. In 2014, Premier Dave Hancock and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis asked the RCMP to investigate findings made by the Auditor General that Ms. Redford and her staff had misused government aircraft.

Ms. Redford resigned as Premier and leader of the Progressive Conservatives in March 2014 after facing a caucus and party revolt against her scandal-plagued administration.

Alberta Liberals and Alberta Party
Greg Clark Calgary-Elbow Alberta Party

Greg Clark

The never-ending dance between the Alberta Liberals and the Alberta Party continued last week as party leader Greg Clark presented another “cooperation” offer to the Liberal Party. Not surprisingly the offer was declined by interim Liberal leader David Swann, who was chosen by his party’s executive because he did not share MLA Laurie Blakeman‘s pro-cooperation stance.

The Alberta Party is hosting its Annual General Meeting this weekend, an event that will feature guest speakers Stephen Carter and Dave Taylor (former Liberal and Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Currie from 2004 to 2012).

Meanwhile, a poll commissioned by former Liberal Party executive director Corey Hogan shows that both parties could be shut out of Calgary’s inner-city constituencies in the next election. If defeat is not a powerful motivator to cooperate, I do not know what else would be.

NDP nab a big candidate in Calgary
Joe Ceci NDP Calgary Fort

Joe Ceci

Rachel Notley‘s NDP have grabbed their biggest name candidate in decades – former five-term Alderman and Homeless advocate Joe Ceci announced this week that he will seek the NDP nomination in Calgary-Fort. Mr. Ceci supported the Liberal Party when it was led by Kevin Taft and endorsed Mr. Swann when he ran for the party’s leadership in 2008.

Calgary-Fort has been represented by PC MLA Wayne Cao since 1997. Mr. Cao is not seeking re-election.

Three candidates have stepped up to run for the PC nomination: Christopher PrimeauBeverly DeSantis and David Aftergood.

Mr. Aftergood recently appealed to the CBC Ombudsman for the removal of an article reporting his jail sentencing in 2007 for improper handling of ballots in the 2004 Calgary municipal election. According to the CBC, Mr. Aftergood was sentenced to 14 days in jail in May 2007 but never served out the sentence, because upon appeal, he was granted a new trial and the charge against him was stayed in January 2010.

Much of the area was represented by NDP MLA Barry Pashak from 1986 to 1993. The NDP have not elected an MLA in Calgary since 1989, but Ms. Notley has said she hopes her party can increase its support in the next election.

Former Tory MP eyes Wildrose leadership
Brian Jean

Brian Jean

Former Fort McMurray-Athabasca Conservative MP Brian Jean is considering a run for the leadership of the Wildrose Party. The crossword loving former Ottawa politician served as MP from 2006 to 2014. He retired in 2014 to return to private life.

Although Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier was unseated in the 2012 election, he and former Mayor Doug Faulkner were only narrowly defeated in Fort McMurray’s two provincial constituencies.

Former Strathcona County Mayor Linda Osinchuk confirmed on Facebook yesterday that she plans to run for the Wildrose Party leadership.

Seven PC nominations today

The Progressive Conservatives will be holding candidate nomination contests today in Bonnyville-Cold Lake, Calgary-Fish Creek, Calgary-Mountain View, Calgary-North West, Medicine Hat, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre and Spruce Grove-St. Albert.

#ABvote Google Hangout

With a provincial election expected in the coming month, we kicked off the first #AbVote Google Hangout last night. Watch the archived version online at abvote.ca.

Will Liberal wild card spoil NDP gains in Edmonton?

Rachel Notley NDP MLA Leadership Candidate Alberta

NDP leader Rachel Notley

Two polls released in the final weeks of 2014 could give an indication of the direction Alberta political might take in 2015.

Raj Sherman MLA Edmonton-Meadowlark

Raj Sherman

The polls show Jim Prentice‘s Progressive Conservatives dominating in Calgary and rural Alberta. And with Wildrose Party support in decline across the province, Mr. Prentice could be tempted to call an election sometime in early 2015.

The polls also show a race for support in Edmonton between the PCs (with 30% in both polls) and Rachel Notley‘s NDP (with 32% and 34% in the two polls).

Edmonton has been a traditional region of support for the NDP and Liberals since the 1980s. All four NDP MLAs and two of five Liberal MLAs, including leader Raj Sherman, represent capital city constituencies.

While NDP candidate Bob Turner‘s strong showing in the September 2014 Edmonton-Whitemud by-election has contributed to the narrative of NDP growth in Edmonton, the Liberals remain a wild card in city. Liberal support is inconsistent in the two polls (one showing the party with 13% and the other with 28%) and that party’s traditional base of support in Edmonton should not be ignored.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton-Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

Many New Democrats hope that the disorganization and apparent marginalization of the provincial Liberals will allow their party to make long sought after gains in Edmonton. But it may not be that easy.

As we have recently seen in other provinces, the NDP have a track record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

A big challenge for both Ms. Notley and Dr. Sherman is to attract liberal and moderate Edmontonians who voted for Alison Redford‘s PC Party in order to block a Wildrose victory in 2012. Now that most Wildrose MLAs have joined the PC Party, those voters may be looking for a new home.

The potential for vote splitting and a PC Party rout in the next election, with a backdrop of a slowing economy and low oil prices, has reignited the discussion about uniting Alberta’s tiny centrist and progressive opposition parties.

Responding to the calls for unity and cooperation, a clearly frustrated Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman shot back, outlining some of the major challenges to uniting the parties:

I’ve tried for years and there is no budging. Each party has a core of supporters that believe their party is the best, the one and only. They will never leave or merge. Both still have infrastructure that is very hard to build, but neither can attract the volunteers and donators to be THE government. I think sometimes we spend more effort fighting each other than the PCs or WR.

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.