Alberta Politics

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.

7 replies on “Will by-election losses teach Alberta’s progressive parties basic math?”

These by elections are going to be significant for the future of all political parties in Alberta but in different ways. PCs want preserve the dynasty & WRPs want to replace it. NDP wants to expand its base, Liberals want to survive & Alberta Party wants to show its viable & vital. Will voters decide or at least indicate a preferred progressive direction today?

Chapman. You are wrong about one thing, the Liberals have bottomed out last election. Just because you do not love a certain brand it doesn’t make your opinion about it true. Last election, many of you were singing a hateful negative chorus against the Liberals, its leader and the brand. Albertans gave them 5 seats and the other no name party (self help party) none…zola bud. Albertans genuinely are NOT tolerating new progressive brands, the only alternative party they will tolerate is the Wildrose…a conservative ALTERNATIVE. The ND’s are enjoying a very temporary media fueled attn. This race is really between the PC Libs and WR.

Wait a minute folks – have you considered that the right is in fact split? The numbers we see tonight may tell more of that story. Prentice has moved the PC’s back to the right of centre. This means the progressives that were with the PC’s have headed back to other parties AP/ Lib / ND. I am expecting to see tonight the early nature of these shifting sands. Thus, if the left bands together while the right splits, the left could capitalize. It will be there for their taking.

Hehr is right, and Alberta will never elect a Liberal government, we cannot accept that name, let alone the NDP.

No, the progressive movement in Alberta has but one chance, and that is throwing its support behind the Alberta Party.

This is the way politics are going, people are growing tired of old brands, they want something new that doesn’t have the stink of the past on it, and that is exactly what the Alberta Party is.

Here’s some basic math. Combined, the “progressive” (God, what a sanctimonious term) vote was 28% and a combined progressive vote would have won one seat, which would promptly be given back in the next general election (remember Cheffins? No? Neither does anyone else). The combined “regressive” vote was 72%. You’re hooped for some time to come.

After being a candidate for both the New Democrats and then Provincial Liberals. I have come to the conclusion that the Alberta Party with a Leader like Greg Clark is the way forward for Alberta voters in the Center.

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