This provincial election is causing a great deal of excitement among progressive Albertans because of the real possibility that Rachel Notley will emerge as leader of the largest caucus of MLAs and premier on May 5. But that victory will be mostly symbolic if the number of progressive MLAs elected falls short of the magic number of 44. So it is more important than ever not to split the progressive vote at the ballot box. Change Alberta has offered its choices in 62 ridings that we deem winnable and explained each of them (See our “Winnable Candidates” page).
The two provincial polls released in the last few days had different estimates of how many Albertans planned to vote for candidates of progressive parties: the Forum poll, which involved about 800 Albertans, pegged the number at 51 percent and projected an NDP majority government. The far larger Mainstreet Technologies poll, which interviewed 4250 Albertans, provided a more modest forecast: 43 percent of the vote for progressives. Threehundredeight.com combined the two polls to project an NDP minority government with 38 NDP members. They would have the support of three Liberals, but would be left three members short of being able to introduce the legislation that they promised during the campaign.
That’s not an acceptable result when there are four progressives for every three voters for Wildrose and even more for each Tory voter. But while the four progressive parties are running on similar platforms and are being careful not to criticize each other much publicly, it is no surprise that each of them is greedy for votes for their own party and somewhat hostile to a non-partisan voting site except when it supports their candidates.
Because of the outsize support that the NDP is receiving relative to the other progressive parties, it ought to be no surprise that almost 90 percent of our recommendations for party support this time around go to the Notley Crue. In 2012, by contrast, we recommended more Liberals than New Democrats. That doesn’t stop NDP partisans from pressuring us to support their candidates in several seats where we have determined that the Liberals remain stronger.
Some Liberal and Alberta Party candidates and supporters have written to us, sometimes rather stridently, to accuse Change Alberta of an NDP bias. They believe that their candidate is more experienced or more progressive or is working a lot harder to reach constituents than the NDP candidate. They claim that we are violating our own rules when we recommend a candidate who is not working as hard as their own.
Nonsense. We are measuring work by candidates but we are mostly interested in RESULTS. We cannot ignore polls, especially constituency and regional polls, that provide an indication of what the voters actually think. It is no secret that many, and perhaps a majority overall of progressive voters this time, do not care about the constituency campaign or candidates; they are focused on the overall race and have decided that they want to support a particular party or its leader. Virtually all of those voters are planning to vote NDP. When the AP or Liberals work very hard in a riding and the polls say that their candidate will get 3 percent of the vote while the NDP will get 30 or 35 percent, it would be irresponsible to recommend someone other than the NDP candidate.
But here is some free advice to the NDP which may not like it coming from non-partisans: don’t ignore your potential voters. Yes, at the start of this campaign, you poured your resources into the limited number of seats where you thought you had a solid chance. And yes, you don’t really have the resources to get to every voter in every constituency where surprising levels of support have emerged. But you do have enough resources to have all your potentially winnable candidates knocking on doors and talking to community groups and to insure that a leaflet drop of some sort reaches most neighbourhoods. It’s bad enough right now that in some seats we have had professed NDP partisans, in one case an NDP federal candidate, writing to Change Alberta to support so-and-so of another party because they don’t believe their own party is actually campaigning in their seat. So, NDP, get your act together!
And AP and Liberals get over yourselves. In 2012, on election day, the Alberta Party led other progressive parties only in one seat: that of the leader. We project that that will happen again in 2015 but that this time that leader will actually win a seat. We are not judging the Alberta Party and its candidates, some of whom would be excellent additions to the legislature. Nobody would be a better addition to the legislature than Janet Keeping, the brainy, personable leader of the Green Party. But provincial Green support is sadly negligible and she is running in an unwinnable seat for any progressive (the premier’s seat, Foothills) and so we cannot recommend her. As for the Liberals, outside of their current five strongholds in Edmonton and Calgary, we could find only one seat (Red Deer North) where they stand a realistic chance of coming out ahead of the NDP, much less winning in 2015.
We expect many, perhaps most, partisans to be petty. Active party memberships are important to our political system, but they create a fortress mentality in which partisans regard everyone who is in another fortress as evil or stupid or both, even when they have similar agendas. But for the 99.9 percent of Albertans who are not members of a political party, there is no need to share the limited view of reality that partisans generally spout. Instead, keep your eyes on the prize: a minimum of 44 progressives elected to the legislature and the implementation of a progressive agenda. Don’t vote for Joe Blow of the Cannot Win party because she is working her guts out to get elected and you feel sorry for her even though she has no chance of winning. Why let some reactionary get elected because you want to follow your heart and not your brain? And don’t vote for Jane Doe of the Winning the Province Party if in your seat another progressive is clearly leading and the consequence of your ignoring what is going on in your constituency is that a reactionary may get elected.
Alvin Finkel is chair of Change Alberta