Alberta Politics

An Orange Chinook howls in Alberta. Is the PC dynasty at its end?

How badly do the Progressive Conservatives need to mess up for Albertans to want to elect an NDP government? It may sound like a silly question in the context of Alberta politics, but we might find an answer on May 5.

Judging by the more than 1,500 Albertans who showed up at an NDP rally in Edmonton yesterday, the momentum behind Rachel Notley‘s NDP is real.

Jim Prentice Alberta Premier
Jim Prentice

“I think the PC Party needs a break from government and Albertans need a break from the PC Party,” Ms. Notley told the massive crowd at the Ramada Hotel on Kingsway Avenue. “You don’t have to repeat history on Tuesday, you can make history,” she said.

Legions of Albertans tired of Jim Prentice‘s long-governing PC Party have rallied around the NDP in this election. With the confident Ms. Notley at its helm and a moderate Lougheed-like platform, the NDP campaign in this election has been near flawless. With exception of a few bumps, including a fiscal miscalculation that was quickly fixed and one candidate’s past praise of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the NDP machine has run smoothly.

In contrast, the PC campaign has appeared distant, robotic and fraught with controversy. The latest controversy has forced Mr. Prentice to call for a review of MLA expenses. Metro Edmonton uncovered the expenses last week, which included one Edmonton PC MLA who expensed $12,500 for a Christmas Party.

‘The PCs sound, in fact, like Social Credit Premier Harry Strom, the one they beat in 1971,’ wrote Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid. Albertans young enough to have voted in the last election are at least 65 years old, meaning that most voters will not remember the last time we had a change in government in Alberta, 43 years ago.

Mr. Prentice wanted this election to be about his spring budget, but Albertans appear to have decided this election is about trust and acceptability, two areas where the PCs have a poor track record.

Brian Jean Wildrose
Brian Jean

Standing in the crowd at the NDP rally, I spoke with two senior citizens who were very excited to experience their first political rally. It is also the first election they will vote NDP. They voted for the PCs in the last election and in many elections before that, they told me.

If the Orange Chinook is real, what will the results look like on election night?

Most media coverage since the leaders’ debate has focused on the NDP and PC parties, but outside of the major urban centres, Brian Jean‘s conservative Wildrose Party is expected to be a big factor. You only need to take a quick drive outside Edmonton City Limits and you will immediately notice the campaign signs change from NDP orange to Wildrose green.

The PCs have placed third behind the NDP and Wildrose parties in most recent polls, but it would be foolish to predict a that party’s defeat even with only on day left in the election campaign. After 43-years in government, the PC Party Establishment is pulling out all the stops to ensure it wins re-election, including its recent fear campaign against the NDP.

It is also important to remember that the constant stream of polls showing the NDP leading the Wildrose and PC parties might not necessarily be reflected in the number of MLAs elected in our first past the post system (as we saw in the 2012 election when the Wildrose Party earned 34% of the province-wide vote and only 19% of the seats in the Assembly).

If a party’s support is too concentrated in one area of the province, it may win seats but not enough to form a majority government. And if a party’s support is too thinly spread across the province, it could be shut out.

On May 5 we will find out if Albertans are ready to take a break from the PC Party and embrace an Orange Chinook. It could be Alberta’s most interesting election night in 43 years.