Former New Democratic Party leader Brian Mason took centre stage today to launch his party’s new attack campaign directed at United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s more controversial views on social issues like LGBTQ rights, Gay-Straight Alliances and abortion, how his plans to balance the budget could impact funding to health care and education, and the substantial political baggage he carries after serving 19 years in Ottawa.
The campaign features a video of Albertans reacting to some of Kenney’s more outlandish statements and views on social issues.
That the NDP is focused on the Kenney is no surprise. The UCP behemoth has a significant lead over the NDP in the polls, in fundraising, and party membership, but Kenney’s popularity is much lower that his party’s and his past as a social conservative activist against issues like women’s reproductive rights and gay rights, are issues that will mobilize the NDP’s base of support.
The anti-abortion group the Wilberforce Project recently bragged on their website about the influence it had exerted on the UCP candidate nomination process. It is unclear how much influence the social conservative group has actually exerted but it brought the divisive issue back to the forefront last week.
As party leader, Mason was a warhorse of opposition politics in Alberta, so it is not surprising that the NDP decided to employ the retiring MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood to launch this part of the campaign. This also allows the party to distance the negative side of its campaign from its leader, Rachel Notley, and its incumbent MLA who are running for re-election.
Ask any Alberta voter on the street if the like negative advertising in elections and the response will be unanimously negative. But that political parties of all persuasions consistently use them speaks to their effectiveness. Also, we kind of expect parties to act this way now.
The negative focus on Kenney and his unpopular views on social issues is a central part of the NDP’s campaign, but it is overshadowing the positive message the NDP is trying to promote – that Notley and her party are the best choice for Alberta families.
The party’s strongest asset, Notley has been touring the province making a flurry of pre-election announcements over the past month, including promises to upgrade the Red Deer Regional Hospital , build a new interchange in Leduc, expand the Telus World of Science in Edmonton, and invest in Calgary’s tech sector. But the positive side of Notley’s campaign feels almost like a side-show to her party’s constant attacks against Kenney.
Whether a strong focus on Kenney’s more controversial views will be enough to turn around the NDP’s electoral fortunes – and ‘enough’ could be a relative term at this point – remains unclear.
Kenney pledges MLA recall, MLA free votes and floor-crossing ban
UCP leader Jason Kenney announced his party would introduce reforms to Alberta’s elections laws, including MLA recall, free votes, a fixed-election day, and banning floor crossing in the Legislature, mirroring many of the promises made in the Wildrose Party‘s 2015 election platform.
MLA recall is a perennial issue that opposition MLAs, most recently Wildrose MLAs, have frequently called for over the past 25 years. At least 7 attempts have been made by opposition MLAs to introduce MLA recall legislation through private members’ bills since 1993, all of which have failed.
UCP MLA Leela Aheer, then a member of the Wildrose Caucus, introduced a private members’ bill in December 2015 calling for an MLA recall process that would have allowed 20 percent of voters overturn the results of a free and fair democratic election. The bill died on the order paper.
When Alberta briefly had MLA recall laws, from 1936 to 1937, signatures were required from 66.6 percent of voters to trigger a by-election. The law was repealed by the Social Credit government after a group of disgruntled Albertans was thought to have collected enough signatures to recall Premier William Aberhart in his Okotoks-High River district.
Banning floor-crossing by requiring that MLAs resign and seek a by-election before they can change parties was a promise made by the Brian Jean-led Wildrose Party in the 2015 election. This promise plays to the resentment many conservatives felt when Danielle Smith and 11 of the party’s MLAs crosses the floor to Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives in 2014, and, more recently, when Sandra Jansen crossed the floor to the NDP.
Kenney also pledged make it illegal for governments to advertise in the run up to an election, similar to a private members’ bill introduced by then-Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman in 2015.
The UCP would also reinstate the Alberta Senatorial Selection Act, with a pledge to hold Senate Nominee elections in 2021, and ban groups affiliated with a political party to register as third party election advertisers, a direct shot at the Alberta Federation of Labour, which is running its Next Alberta campaign.