A Strategic Confession by Alvin Finkel

“I really want to vote for the NDP in my constituency, someone who will sit in the Notley caucus. Are you sure that I will cause a right-winger to be elected if I don’t vote for the Liberal or the Alberta Party candidate you recommend?” In this wave election, we’ve heard this from a number of people who have written to us. Earlier in the election, our answer in every case was “yes, you will risk electing a right-winger, thereby reducing the progressive component in the legislature.” That’s still what we believe to be true in Calgary-Elbow and Calgary-McCall. In Elbow, the race is really between Tory (Mis)Education Minister Gordon Dirks and Alberta Party leader Greg Clark. The NDP is likely running a respectable third but mostly they are not visible in Elbow. Their vote is purely a Notley vote, not a vote for their generic candidate. In many constituencies, that is enough to make them the strategic candidate. But look at the Clark campaign with its 150 workers, $100,000 or so of expenditure, and bazillion lawn signs, and it is clear that he is the real threat to Dirks. Polls have them running even. So why not vote NDP anyway and not worry if a right-winger gets in? Well, what if the NDP does not have a majority of seats and needs a little help from its friends? Clark will almost certainly step up to the plate. But Gordon Dirks?

Similarly, in Calgary McCall, the real race is between the Liberal candidate, the chosen successor to Darshan Kang, and a Wildrose candidate. The NDP candidate may be the most progressive but he is a longshot. A strategic voter will want to insure that this seat elects a progressive, someone who would be available to a Premier Notley should she need them.

Edmonton-Centre, Calgary-Mountain View, and Calgary-Buffalo are different. Change Alberta has recommended the three Liberal candidates as most winnable among progressives and most people would agree that they are also the most distinguished candidates in their constituencies–Laurie Blakeman, David Swann, and David Khan. They are all running strong campaigns. Their NDP opponents, whatever their merits or demerits, are really just proxies for their leaders. Surely that is not enough to be elected? Well, frankly it may be! And what’s interesting in all 3 ridings is that threehundredeight.com claims the NDP is leading -a bit in the two Calgary seats, a lot in Edmonton–and that the Liberals are running a strong second. That means that the Tories and Wildrose cannot win these seats even if the progressive vote is split. Almost all the seats where the NDP is ahead are seats with strong right-wing challengers—the Liberals are a poor third or fourth or fifth in almost all of those seats, except Edmonton-Meadowlark, where it is also unnecessary to vote strategically as between the NDP and Liberals. A vote for the Liberals or Alberta Party in those NDP-led seats helps the right-wing by taking a vote from the leading centre-left candidate. But unfortunately for the Liberal candidates in the three above-named seats, a vote for the NDP does not risk giving the seat to a  right-winger. It seems rather unfair to tell Liberal and AP voters that they have responsibilities as voters to change their preferences in many seats while the NDP voters really only have to do this in two constituencies. But the math of this election explains why this peculiar circumstance has arisen.

We remain non-partisan. But we are not idiots who have to parrot the line of deluded  Liberals and AP that polls do not mean anything, blah, blah blah. Of course they do. The NDP moved into the big leagues this time around, and the other progressive parties moved to the bottom of the juniors. AP and Liberal candidates projected to win 4 or 5 percent of the vote are squawking at us for recommending NDP candidates who are projected to win 35 percent of the vote and allegedly are not working so hard to win voters as the now-junior parties are working. Why, they ask, would we calling on their voters to shift their votes to the NDP when they, the junior parties, are campaigning so hard? Answer: Because this time you have no traction and the NDP does. Maybe things will be  different next time and we’ll be pleading with people who prefer the NDP to give it up to you. But in this election, outside a small number of ridings, those who want Rachel Notley as their premier do have to vote for her candidates.

Alvin Finkel is chair of Change Alberta.

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