Alberta Politics

Alberta goes Blue: Jason Kenney’s UCP wins an unsurprising majority victory

It was largely expected and anti-climactic, but Jason Kenney has led his United Conservative Party to form a majority government in Alberta, defeating the one-term New Democratic Party government of Rachel Notley.

More than 260,000 “vote anywhere” advance ballots still need to be counted, but as of tonight the UCP appears to hold 64 seats with the NDP forming an opposition of 24 seats. There could be some change as those additional votes are counted in the next few days, but it is not expected the seat count will change dramatically.

The UCP dominated rural Alberta and appear to have captured most of the seats in Calgary, climbing into majority territory about half-an-hour after the polls closed.

The NDP won nearly every seat in Edmonton, plus the suburban city of St. Albert, a handful of districts in central and northeast Calgary, and Shannon Phillips’ seat in Lethbridge-West. As far as opposition caucuses go, this is fairly respectable for Alberta.

Despite losing her party’s majority tonight, Notley promised in an energetic and upbeat election night speech that she intends to continue leading her party as Leader of the Official Opposition. New Democrats were certainly disappointed in the election loss, but there was plenty of love for Rachel Notley at the Edmonton Convention Centre tonight.

This is the first time since the 1993-1997 Legislative Assembly that only two parties will be represented in the Assembly. Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark was unsuccessful in his bid for re-election in Calgary-Elbow, and party leader Stephen Mandel fell short in Edmonton-McClung. Both Liberal Party leader David Khan and Freedom Conservative Party leader Derek Fildebrandt were defeated.

I will have a lot more to comment on when all the advance ballots have been counted, the seat totals are settled, and the dust settles. Now, I need some rest.

17 replies on “Alberta goes Blue: Jason Kenney’s UCP wins an unsurprising majority victory”

Having all (or almost all) opposition seats in Edmonton is a recipe for disaster for democracy and unity. The results of this election are the greatest example of why we need proportional representation. UCP got more than 50% of the popular vote, so they would still have a majority, but it would not be the us vs them based solely on geography. Normally, the winner in first past the post has no incentive to move to proportional representation. This is one of those rare occasions where they might.
I realize that pretty much no-one else in the Province is thinking of this, but perhaps we should.

Totally disagree that this election speaks to a need for PR. If NDP support were evenly distributed across the province and 40% popular vote got 10 seats, that would be an argument for PR. In this case, the NDP caucus will accurately reflect the Albertans who support its values: Edmontonians, inner-city Calgary and Lethbridge, and (maybe) Banff-Canmore. Rural Alberta and the Calgary suburbs are on the other side. That should lead to a legislature whose members are well tuned to their constituents preferences. The popular vote fairy closely matches the seat total (28% seats 32% votes).

It will be interesting to see what the voter turnout stats look like once Elections Alberta finishes crunching the numbers. Where I live, Grande Prairie, the turnout—based on votes cast and total number of electors on the ElectionsAB unofficial results page, and excluding “vote anywhere” advance votes—was dramatically higher than in previous elections.

In the Grande Prairie riding: 62% turnout; UCP got about 62%, NDP 22%, AP 13%, FCP 2%. In GP-Wapiti: a whopping 73% turnout; UCP got just under 75% of vote, NDP 15%, AP just over 9%. There was no FCP candidate in GP-Wapiti, and no Liberal in either GP riding. These numbers are surprising in an area where turnouts are normally well under 50%.

It’s also disheartening that the NDP is not more competitive in rural and small-urban Alberta. The margins of UCP victory outside the two big cities are massive, with a couple of exceptions like Banff-Kanaskis and Lethbridge West (where Shannon Philips was re-elected for the NDP). The NDP’s CCF roots are as a Prairie populist movement founded in farmers’ despair over the depredations of the Great Depression, and rural people’s culture of helping each other should be prime soil in which to grow a party based on cooperation and collaboration rather than dog-eat-dog competition—and yet, the NDP has been massively shut out in farm country.

I think Job 1 for the Alberta NDP has to be reconnecting with rural Alberta and Albertans, and figuring out what it is that makes rural residents so resistant to NDP ideals. This doughnut electoral map, with the NDP stuck in the doughnut hole of Edmonton, is unhealthy for our democracy and our polity.

I must be feeling contrarian today but I have to disagree with this too.

The clear path to victory for the NDP in 4-8 years from now is to go all in on courting suburban Calgary, not chasing rural voters. The UCP is going to have a hard time containing the social conservatives in their caucus, and eventually they will piss off more libertarian suburban voters in Calgary. Pipelines won’t be a leading issue forever, and that will take away a winning and unifying issue for the UCP in the suburbs as well.

Ultimately if you can convince suburbanites in city A to vote for you, you can get suburbanites in city B just down the road to get on board a lot easier than trying to recreate 1930s agrarian populism.

NDP wins a majority by winning 16 more seats in Calgary, Banff, one more in Lethbridge, and two more at the edges of Edmonton. That’s a realistic coalition within a decade.

Interestingly, the only place where the NDP vote did not go down much form 2015 was in Calgary, so I think the effort put in and reservations about social conservatism resonated there more than in rural Alberta. While the NDP did poorer than expected in Calgary, there were several seat that went to the UCP that were quite close and counting the remaining advance votes could even still change the outcome in a couple.

If Edmonton and Calgary continue to grow faster than rural Alberta, they will become more important in the future to election outcomes. I suspect future provincial elections will be decided mainly in suburban and metro Edmonton and Calgary and in the smaller cities. The more rural areas will probably always continue to reliably vote Conservative, much as they have for the last 80 years or so under different party names (PC, Wlidrose,and now UCP).

In my opinion, the most likely viable challenger that the UCP will face in the next 8 years will not be from the left but will rather be tied to a separatist movement growing within the province. Kenney has anchored himself to federalism with his CPC past and current ties. As a result, he will have a difficult time re-branding himself as a separatist should Albertans start to develop an appetite for it. If Notley wanted to carry the mantel of separatism it would be a potential way to re-invent herself politically in the province although it would probably require her to ditch the NDP brand. I don’t believe that the left-wing values that she won on in 2015 are going to come back into favor in Alberta any time soon (even in 2015, it took the stars to align for her to win with those policies). What is important to understand, though, is that socialism is more or less being rejected across the entire western world right now and a new set of issues are rapidly coming to the forefront.

A PQ-style separatist movement would be exactly the Conservative vote-splitting recipe for an NDP victory in the same fashion as 2015. But if Trudeau loses in the fall, which looks like the most likely outcome currently, the impetus for that movement will be gone.

” a new set of issues are rapidly coming to the forefront.”

Surely one of them is the need to do something about climate change. Whether the fires in Ft MacMurray, Slave Lake & Waterton, and the flood in Calgary were a result of climate change isn’t worth arguing about – the point is they are exactly the kind of thing climate scientists have been warning us about, and it is definitely rising as an issue that needs to be dealt with.

“…trying to recreate 1930s agrarian populism…” Well, that really wasn’t what I was suggesting. There are a lot of policy areas, such as orphan wells and landowner rights vis-à-vis the oilpatch, as well as rural school transportation issues, where the NDP could find traction in rural communities. There are 46 urban seats in Calgary plus Edmonton, so you could win each & every metropolitan seat and gain a slim majority government… but would that be healthy for our democracy? Or would it be better to have representation from all of the broad regions of the province?

Totally agree with you that better policy and better democracy would come from a party with both rural and urban constituencies. But the most realistic path back to NDP government probably includes 90% of the 46 urban seats = 41, plus Lethbridge and Banff = 44.

It’s more or less the same roadmap as the state Democratic parties in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado have used to build majority governments – the big city, the college town, and the resort communities equal a slim but defensible majority over the rural areas.

I have two comments this fine April morning:

1) The voters have spoken, the bastards. Yes, we did Mr. Cournoyer. (With thanks to US Senate candidate Dick Tuck.)

2) A call for proportional representation is a call for legislative gridlock. I can find no finer example of how to hash things up than British Columbia where Liberals hold 43 seats, NDP have 41 and the Greens 3 – and where the Green Party is the proverbial tail wagging the dog. Did 87 ridings in the 2017 BC election ask for a Green agenda, or even have Green candidates in 2017? No and no.

The beauty of first past the post is its simplicity and the fact that a layer of needless complexity is eliminated. If you are unable to build consensus around your ideas and leadership before an election then you shouldn’t be allowed to impose them after the vote and the opposition bench is where you need to be.

UCP got more than 50% of the vote, so they would have a majority even with PR. The layer of complexity are called the will of thee people.

But first past the post can also create the situation you described, as we saw in New Brunswick last fall. It also wouldn’t have taken too different a scenario to have produced the same thing here: mix a stronger NDP showing in Calgary with a few seats from the deep south going to the Freedom Conservatives and you have Derek Fildebrandt as king maker.

It’s reasonable for Alberta Party supporters to complain about an absence of proportional representation. It doesn’t make sense for NDP supporters, as they would never have a majority government with PR and isn’t that the object?

This is a very dismal result for anyone who cares about the environment, labour rights, or any type of social justice or human decency. The fact that my province voted for a climate denying, racist, xenophobic, political party just sets back any progress that existed in the last four years. Since 2010, we managed to change the minds of the rest of the country in terms of the values we believe and now we have reverted back to a political party that is similar to Social Credit in some respects. We only have ourselves to blame.

I share your disappointment, David. UCP candidates, and their media supporters really enjoyed denigrating the idea of social license, pointing out that it did not result in pipelines being built. The problem is, we can’t really pass judgement on the concept of social license until we compare it to how things work out without it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *