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.