Four days before Election Day, Progressive Conservative Party leader Jim Prentice stood on a stage in front of hall of supporters who paid $500 per plate to attend the evening fundraiser in downtown Edmonton. Mr. Prentice warned his audience of the dire consequences of voting for Rachel Notley’s NDP, which has been his key message since the televised leaders’ debate.
Five polls released on April 29, 2015 show the NDP leading the PC and Wildrose parties across Alberta, and with a massive lead in Edmonton. Most political watchers expected the Mr. Prentice to use the massive PC campaign war-chest to launch a massive negative advertising campaign against the NDP, but it has not materialized.
The PC Party has released some radio ads and its supporters in corporate Calgary, like oil company CEO Brian Ferguson, have spoken out against the NDP proposal to review natural resource royalties. But aside from Mr. Ferguson (and the supporters who paid $500 to hear Mr. Prentice speak last night), I am not sure most voters believe the government should not regularly review royalties to ensure Albertans are getting the best value for their resources.
[The Globe & Mail reported on September 5, 2014 that Mr. Ferguson was among 39 donors who gave Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign between $10,001 and $30,000]
The attacks do not seem to have weakened Ms. Notley, who is an articulate and likeable politician. Her party has presented a moderate platform focused on reinvesting in health care and education, raising corporate tax rates from 10% to 12%, and carefully reviewing royalties collected for the province’s natural resources.
As Mr. Prentice tries to scare conservatives into re-electing his party to a 13th term in government, one poll conducted by ThinkHQ shows most Albertans surveyed said they were more afraid of a re-elected PC government than a Wildrose or NDP government.
“…68% of those interviewed said they would be very or somewhat concerned about Alberta’s future if the PCs were re-elected as government. Meanwhile, 58% would have concerns about a Wildrose government, and only 47% say they would have reservations if the NDP win the election.”
In the 2012 election, conservative voters in rural Alberta abandoned the PCs in favour of the opposition Wildrose Party. The PCs were re-elected with the support of moderate voters, many former Liberal voters, who were both scared of the Wildrose and excited by Alison Redford’s promise of a progressive government.
Fast forward through three years of scandals, controversy and broken promises, and now many of the same voters who saved Ms. Redford’s PC Party in 2012 are now leaning toward voting for Ms. Notley’s NDP.
With trust and accountability having become the defining issues of the election campaign, Mr. Prentice has not presented a compelling reason for Albertans to trust that the PC Party will be any different in the next three years (especially after he called the election one year earlier than the PC Government’s fixed election date).
There is also a feeling among many Albertans that the PCs have mismanaged our province’s vast resource wealth, especially following the drop in oil prices earlier this year.
Despite years of economic prosperity, the PCs have run deficit budgets since 2008 and do not appear to have planned for any economic downturns (even though the price of oil has always been cyclical in nature).
Unlike previous elections that were dominated by the PCs, there is an increasing permissive environment among Alberta voters that it is okay not to support the governing party in this election.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has predicted the election of a PC minority government but said that Albertans should not be afraid of voting for the other parties. Mr. Nenshi has met with all five main party leaders and said any of them would do a “pretty decent job” for Calgary.
“We’re a place of entrepreneurs. We’re a place of risk-takers, yet we don’t take risks in government except in 2010. And I think that one worked out OK for Calgary,” Mr. Nenshi told the Calgary Herald.
In a recent blog post, former Edmonton PC MLA and cabinet minister David King asked “Should Albertans vote for a P.C. candidate, in any constituency, and elect a cog in a machine that is running amuck?”
With NDP support concentrated in urban areas of the province, the PCs also face a major challenge from Brian Jean‘s Wildrose Party in rural Alberta. For the first time in their 44 years in power, the PCs are facing a two front campaign. It is never a safe bet to count the PCs out, but they may be facing their toughest challenge since forming government in 1971.
And with four days left until Election Day, it is still not clear which party will form government on May 5, 2015, but a minority government could be a likely result.
A minority government would breathe new life into Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, which has largely become a rubber-stamp for decisions made behind closed doors by PC cabinet ministers and MLAs. A minority government would also, for the first time in Alberta’s history, force the governing party to meaningfully work with the other parties when passing legislation.
Changing our government is not something Albertans should be afraid of. It is something we should probably do on a regular basis.