Sometimes I think that only divine intervention could change the politics of Alberta sufficiently to elect a progressive government. But in recent weeks we have seen some evidence that a majority or minority progressive government is not beyond the possible outcomes of the current Alberta election.
The evidence of course mostly comes from polls and we do know that in the 2012 election–though not in earlier elections–published polls proved a poor guide to the final results. Undecideds are between one fifth and one quarter of all voters in some polls and there is simply no way to know whether, once they decide, they will simply divide along the same lines as the current decideds or will all plump for one party. And two-thirds of decided voters are, in fact, not really decided. They are telling pollsters that they might change their minds between today and election day.
Still, here is what the “experts” are saying. Three hundred and eight.com, relying on all the polls available till Jim Prentice called the election on April 7, suggested that if an election were held today (April 8) that the Tories would likely win 46 seats, the Wildrose 18, the New Democrats 13, and the Liberals 10 (they ignored the Alberta Party and Greens altogether). But 308.com noted that at the maximum range of support that the NDP and Liberals enjoyed in recent polls, the NDP could win as many as 22 seats and the Liberals 12. That outcome, which does not assume any cooperation between voters for those two parties, could very well be a minority governing coalition assuming that these two parties chose to work together rather than allow a smaller number of Tories or Wildrosers to claim the right to govern.
A Think HQ poll published today claimed even a larger share of support for the centre-left parties among decided voters: 26 percent for the NDP, 12 percent for the Liberals, 5 percent for the Alberta Party and 1 percent for others (presumably the Greens who register much more highly federally in Alberta). The NDP across the province is running second to the Wildrose at 31 percent and ahead of the Tories at 25 percent. In Edmonton, the NDP vote is claimed to be a commanding 42 percent over the PCs at 22 percent, Wildrose at 21 percent, the Liberals at 13 percent and the Alberta Party at 2 percent. The NDP has 19 percent in Calgary, the Liberals have 14 percent, and the Alberta Party , 7 percent. Between them, that’s 40 percent against 31 percent for Wildrose and 27 percent for the PCs.
The split on the right could certainly benefit the centre-left if centre-left voters are voting strategically. At the moment, in Edmonton, that probably means voting NDP in all but Edmonton-Centre, Laurie Blakeman’s seat for the Liberals (and now the Alberta Party and Greens) and perhaps Meadowlark, where the Liberals still have a strong presence thanks to Raj Sherman and where the NDP has never demonstrated that it actually exists. Change Alberta’s research over the next four weeks will attempt to confirm for strategic voters whether that’s a fair conclusion or whether the Liberal vote remains greater than the NDP vote in some areas of the city. The Liberals have no candidates in eight of Edmonton’s 19 constituencies, and it is possible that in some of the 11 seats where they did nominate candidates that they have greater momentum than the NDP. Overall, though, at the moment, one can probably largely paint Edmonton Orange. Northern Alberta outside of Edmonton is more likely to elect right-wingers than New Democrats but the NDP is the only party of the centre-left contesting many of the northern seats. It is conceivable that it could win some three-way races with the Tories and Wildrose, perhaps in Athabasca and in the Peace River area, where the NDP has occasionally elected members in the past.
In Calgary, one hopes that the 40 percent of voters who want to elect progressives can unite around particular candidates from the NDP, the Liberals, and the Alberta Party on this go-round rather than wasting the opportunity provided by a split among the reactionary parties. Change Alberta will be doing its utmost, seat by seat in Calgary, to determine what’s what. Already, certain seats seem to be bending in particular directions. Joe Ceci, the popular city councillor, seems to be working magic for the NDP in Calgary-Fort. Greg Clark, thanks to the Alberta Party’s focusing on that seat, has the edge among progressives in Calgary-Elbow, a seat he almost won in last year’s by-election, and where he may be helped by the failure of the Liberalsso far to have nominated a candidate for the upcoming election. David Swann is clearly leading among progressives in Calgary-Mountain View, where the Tories will spend hundreds of thousands to try to win back the seat. And David Khan ought to benefit from Kent Hehr’s excellent organization in Calgary-Buffalo to hold onto that seat.
But Calgary is a big town and it is unclear, at this point, where else the NDP might be making gains, where the Liberals remain more popular than the Dippers, and where, if anywhere, outside of Elbow, the Alberta Party is progressing (and let’s not forget Jim Prentice’s riding of Calgary-Foothills: Janet Keeping, the whipsmart leader of the Greens and political cooperation supporter extraordinaire, deserves the votes of strategic voters for her classy decision to end her many months of campaigning in Fort so as not to take votes from Joe Ceci, a Johnny-come-lately in the riding whom Keeping endorsed for the riding as she moved over to Foothills to try to slay the giant).
Though Calgary has fewer progressives than Edmonton, 40 percent of the electorate wanting to vote for a progressive party is hardly something to sneeze at. In many ways, the issue of whether progressive Calgarians vote strategically or simply split their votes evenly could decide the shape of the next legislature. It would be a shame if progressive Calgarians allow the two right-wing parties, each of which is more popular than any individual left-wing party, to win most of the seats in the city. A sweep of both Edmonton and Calgary by progressive parties, added to victories for the centre-left in the two Lethbridge seats, and
some of the northern seats, could actually create what once appeared impossible: a centre-left majority of seats in the Alberta legislature.
Alvin Finkel is the chair of Change Alberta.