Can Jason Kenney possibly lose the Alberta election?
|National Post 03 Apr 2019 at 12:25|
Below, a few reasons why the UCP can be uniquely braggadocious about their prospect of victory ‚ÄĒ and how they could still manage to lose this thing anyway.
The United Conservative Party has been leading the polls for its entire existence
In July 2017, a week after the party was created, it opened a lead of 28 points over the incumbent NDP. There hasn‚Äôt been a single poll since that didn‚Äôt show the UCP with a commanding lead over the NDP. The typical Canadian election campaign is a horse race between two parties who each command about 40 per cent of the electorate. But the UCP has repeatedly been able to claim the rare prize of seeing more than half the electorate saying they‚Äôll vote for them. When the election campaign started, they had an explosive lead of 56 per cent versus the NDP‚Äôs 31 per cent. That lead has narrowed somewhat as the campaign has ground on, but the fact remains that throughout its entire time in government, the NDP has never once polled as the province‚Äôs most popular party. The sole exception was in November, 2015 , when the party‚Äôs support of 33 per cent was just enough to pull it ahead of the still-divided Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives.
Rachel Notley pictured only five years ago, when she was announcing her candidacy for the leadership of what was then an obscure fourth place political party. Christina Ryan/Calgary Herald
Under proportional representation, the NDP would have never formed government
New Democrats are usually big fans of proportional representation. In B.C., Premier John Horgan‚Äôs NDP government recently held a failed referendum to abolish first-past-the-post. When Doug Ford won the Ontario election last year, the NDP-aligned Broadbent Institute blamed it on a ‚Äúmajor fault in our electoral system.‚ÄĚ But in Alberta, there never would have been a premier Rachel Notley with proportional representation; the combined Alberta conservative vote has always been higher than support for the NDP. In the 2015 election, the NDP cruised to power with only 40.57 per cent of the vote, as compared to 52 per cent won by a combination of the votes logged by Wildrose and the Progressive Conservatives. In one of the more extreme cases, Red Deer NDP candidate Kim Schreiner got into the legislature with only 29.4 per cent of the vote, with the rest of the riding‚Äôs votes divided relatively evenly between the Wildrose, PC and Liberal candidates. Without a divided right this time around, the choice is a bit more binary.
It‚Äôs unlikely the NDP can maintain their majority, but it‚Äôs feasible
Despite what the polls say, the Alberta election isn‚Äôt a simple numbers game. The Alberta NDP don‚Äôt need to win the popular vote, they just need to hang onto 44 seats, however narrowly. To do this, the NDP‚Äôs only hope is to hold onto urban Alberta, even as they are washed out in the hinterlands. If the party held onto all their Edmonton-area ridings (24), all their Calgary ridings (15) and then a smattering of ridings in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Banff, they would just be able to eke out a majority. But Alberta has never really been a place where parties can hold power merely by dominating the cities. Of the province‚Äôs 4.3 million people, fewer than half live in Edmonton and Calgary. This is in sharp contrast to a province like Manitoba, where parties can effectively win elections merely by capturing Winnipeg.
Population density map of Canada. Note how Alberta, unlike most of Canada, has filled its countryside with people. Statistics Canada
It‚Äôs not unprecedented to lose a 20-point lead
As of press time, the UCP are leading the NDP by a considerable lead of more than 13 points. However, in Canada it‚Äôs not at all unprecedented that a provincial party has squandered this kind of lead before voting day. The most recent example comes out of B.C. For more than a year leading up to the 2013 provincial election, the NDP was leading the B.C. Liberals by as much as 20 points. ‚ÄúIf this man kicked a dog, he‚Äôd still win the election,‚ÄĚ was the infamous headline in The Province referring to NDP leader Adrian Dix. When voting day came, however, the NDP not only failed to form government, but they lost seats. And it‚Äôs not just NDPers who can squander a lead. A year before the 2011 Manitoba election, the province‚Äôs Progressive Conservatives were leading Greg Selinger‚Äôs incumbent NDP by more than 15 points. By the time ballots were counted, the PC‚Äôs seat share hadn‚Äôt budged.
Polling is a bastard
In the leadup to Alberta‚Äôs 2012 election, it was generally taken as fact that Wildrose was going to defeat Alison Redford‚Äôs Progressive Conservatives. In one poll only two days before Election Day, Wildrose was predicted to be headed for a ‚Äúsweeping majority.‚ÄĚ Instead, they . One of the problems is that pollsters are still having trouble adjusting to the cell phone age . Many polls rely on people with landlines who don‚Äôt immediately hang up when encountering an unfamiliar voice; a demographic that disproportionately captures older folks, whose votes generally skew conservative. In addition, many Alberta ridings contain high populations of transients and new immigrants who are easily missed by polling. Despite Alberta‚Äôs not-great economic situation, the province is still a net recipient of newcomers. Since 2015, another 150,000 people have packed into Wild Rose Country; more than enough to swing some key ridings.
The UCP hasn‚Äôt been scandal free, but nobody seems to care
Less than two weeks into the election campaign, it emerged that the UCP was under RCMP questioning due to Kenney allegedly running a fake leadership candidate in 2017 in order to sink the chances of rival Brian Jean. Two UCP candidates have been criticized for past anti-gay comments . The NDP has also been hammering hard on Kenney‚Äôs own lengthy record as a social conservative. Do a Google search for ‚ÄúJason Kenney‚ÄĚ in Alberta right now, and the top hit is a promoted tweet from the NDP linking to a website . ‚ÄúDid you know Jason Kenney has forcefully campaigned against basic rights and protections for LGBTQ Canadians?‚ÄĚ it reads. But a lot of this stuff has been public record for years. As a member of the Conservative opposition in 2005, it was Kenney who delivered one of the lengthiest House of Commons speeches opposing gay marriage . When Kenney was running for leadership of the Progressive Conservatives in 2016, red Tories within the party had similarly taken pause at his social conservative pedigree. However, while all this Kenney-bashing may drive Notley‚Äôs own base to the polls, it may not have a noticeable effect in a campaign where the chief worries are economic. More than see it as a ‚Äúcrisis‚ÄĚ that pipelines keep getting stonewalled, and most do not see the NDP as the best pick to get them build. Albertans didn‚Äôt care about Notley‚Äôs past as an oil industry critic when they made her premier, and they may not care about Kenney‚Äôs past as a social conservative should they choose him as Notley‚Äôs successor.
Sometimes, the Alberta electorate can be a tad unpredictable
In the 2012 election, the Alberta NDP finished in fourth place, winning only two seats. Three years later, the party won a majority government. ‚ÄúNever underestimate how FUBAR (f‚ÄĒed up beyond all recognition) the Alberta electorate can be,‚ÄĚ said an Alberta pollster who did not wish to be named for this story. One of the swing factors in the 2015 election was that, for the first since Jurassic Park was in theatres, Alberta lefties saw a feasible chance at power and showed up in droves. Turnout for 2015 was 57 per cent ‚ÄĒ the highest since 1993 (which itself was a surprisingly close race between Ralph Klein‚Äôs Progressive Conservatives and the Alberta Liberals). Turnout could similarly deal some surprises on April 15 if progressives turn out in droves while complacent conservatives stay home. This is why, even with near-certain victory in their grasp, Alberta conservatives are being unusually careful about not screwing it up before election day. When rumours abounded that former Wildrose leader Brian Jean might join the Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta, a parade of Tory elders () emerged to denounce him as a vote-splitter. Kenney‚Äôs one-time boss, the former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day, warned that the UCP will still have to ‚Äúearn every inch of ground they take.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúJason Kenney, of all people, knows that in politics complacency is fatal and nothing can be taken for granted,‚ÄĚ he told the National Post by email.
In 2017, 16.5 per cent of all CPP contributions came from Alberta workers, while just 10.6 per cent of CPP expenditures made their way back to the province
I suspect what truly outrages the Liberal MPs is the sight of a person of conscience, unwilling to sacrifice her principles so readily on the altar of partisanship
They abandoned electoral reform in the same cynical, insulting way they re defending themselves in the SNC Lavalin scandal. Did we forget?
Wilson-Raybould had written a scathing letter to her colleagues, saying their choice on whether to remove her would reveal the values of the party