I will be reminiscing on this blog over the next few days about some of the key moments from Alberta’s May 5, 2015 election campaign that stand out in my memory. The one year anniversary of that historic election, which saw the defeat of the 44-year old Progressive Conservative government and the election of Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party, is fast approaching.
One key moment was an April 14, 2015 rally held for Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice at a community hall in the Edmonton-Whitemud constituency, where PC MLA Stephen Mandel was running for re-election. The area had been a Tory stronghold since the 1997 election, when Dave Hancock was first elected, and voters in the area had chosen former mayor Mr. Mandel in a by-election only five months earlier.
The mid-afternoon event was well-organized and attracted a respectable crowd of about 250 supporters, candidates and party stalwarts into a hall in an affluent southwest Edmonton neighbourhood. It was a fairly typical political event, but it was an exchange at the tail-end of the rally convince me that the PC Party’s once-mighty campaign machine was running on fumes.
After a fairly unremarkable speech about his party’s commitment to fixing the problems it created in the health care system, Mr. Prentice remained on stage to take questions from the media. There had already been big signs of trouble on the campaign trail but his answer and the crowd’s response to the final media question convinced me that the PC campaign machine was running on fumes.
Over the course of the campaign Mr. Prentice had been harshly critical of the NDP election promise to review Alberta’s natural resource royalty structure and raise corporate taxes from 10 percent to 12 percent.
When asked if he would ever review royalties [note: the question was about either royalty rates or the corporate tax structure, I can’t remember for sure], Mr. Prentice delivered the most politically-mushy and non-commital answer I have ever heard: [paraphrased] ‘perhaps maybe sometime in the future my government might consider reviewing the structure.’
As soon as he delivered his response a forced cheer erupted from the party staffers in the back of the room and spread through the crowd of supporters, drowning out any further media questions and signalling an end to the official event program.
The crowd’s cheer was completely unenthusiastic. It was not the kind of answer that anyone would actually cheer. And it was undoubtably the wrong note on which to end a political rally.
If the PCs were unable to rally enthusiasm into a crowd of supporters in Edmonton-Whitemud, arguably the most loyal conservative area of the capital city, it was clear that Mr. Prentice’s party was in deep trouble in Edmonton.