The Calgary Flames are preparing to host their first playoff game since 2009 in a matter of days. While the Flames are working hard to even up their series, the politicians are working the doors. The province of Alberta may be preparing to elect a new party to power for the first time since 1971.
Does this sound familiar? Just three years ago I was responsible for the following assumption:
Danielle Smith is likely to be the next premier of Alberta
It doesn’t sound like a terrible statement, but this type of statement reveals a foolish reliance on poor polling data taken immediately before election day. Alison Redford, not Danielle Smith, became Premier of Alberta. Furthermore, the results were not close; Redford retained her majority. I will defend myself by demonstrating that I was a member of a mob making misguided assumptions. For example, following the 2012 Alberta election, Andrew Coyne promptly wrote an article after titled “Why I’m no longer making election predictions after Alberta.”
On May 5th, Albertans are headed back to the polls to decide whether the Progressive Conservatives should be given another opportunity to lead. There are three angles of the story that I am interested in following as election day draws nearer
Can Jim Prentice Gain a Mandate?
Prentice took over as Progressive Conservative leader and Premier seven months ago. His election as leader came on the heels of Alison Redford’s disgraceful resignation. Alberta’s Auditor General released a serious report condemning Alison Redford, finding that her office used public resources inappropriately. Additionally, Redford’s style of leadership made her an unattractive leader for the ruling caucus. The Auditor General concluded that “the aura of power around premier Redford and her office and the perception that the influence of the office should not be questioned.”
Image Stolen From the Edmonton Journal
The caucus and membership demanded Redford’s resignation, and they received it. and Prentice’s subsequent appointment was an opportunity for the party to move in a new direction with a new leader. Leaders need to demonstrate that they carry the confidence of the electorate. Thus far Prentice has won nothing other than his leadership. Redford, on the other hand, managed to surprise the province (really, the entire country) and win an election she was supposed to lose. Prentice’s ability to convince Albertans that the PCs are capable of leading the province once again is worth watching.
Alberta’s Economic Position
Ideally, as the incumbent Prentice should be heading into an election with a profound lead over his opponents, but this election may be different. As global oil prices fell earlier in the year, Alberta’s economic position was profoundly weakened. The province has been hounded by skeptics for being over-reliant on revenues from the oil and gas sector. The drop in prices caused a budget gap of $4.99 billion this fiscal year.
In short, the Premier’s timing was not ideal. He had to act quickly to salvage a responsible budget in the wake of this spending gap. To Prentice’s credit, he actually has taken steps to solve the issue rather than exploding further into debt. His budget raised provincial income taxes, and raising fees for insurance, permits, tobacco, alcohol and gasoline. The economy will likely play the critical role in the debates. Will the progressive parties (the Alberta Party, Alberta NDP, Alberta Liberals) capitalize as showing themselves to be better stewards of the economy?
The Wildrose Party
Danielle Smith was supposed to be the one to stop the Progressive Conservative leadership dynasty. Now she’s a part of it. This was an extraordinary development because just weeks before Smith crossed the floor, she was chastising other members of her caucus for doing the very same thing.
If you thought the timing was bad for Prentice, it might have been worst for Smith. The Wildrose is seen to be a viable alternative to the Progressive Conservatives (again). Now they have a new leader, Brian Jean, who has taken an extremely active role in candidate selection, purging one individual who espoused homophobic views on a blog 8 years ago. I am curious to see whether Jean can shed the Wildrose’s reputation for far-right wing ideology and position himself as the “government in waiting.”