A month ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek Alberta political primer about Jim Prentice’s inevitable march to a landslide election victory.
The Mainstreet Technologies automated phone survey of 3,121 Alberta voters conducted on April 13 shows the Wildrose and NDP in a statistical tie for first place at 31 per cent and 30 per cent support among decided voters, respectively.
The Tories are in third place with 24 per cent, while the Liberals come in at 10 per cent, and the Alberta Party at five per cent in the survey.
I guess that shows why you should never listen to the musings of someone living in Ontario about Alberta politics.
In my defense, when Brian Jean launched his Wildrose leadership bid on February 25th, he didn’t even pretend he had a chance:
“Bluntly, I don’t think it’s one we can win at this stage. It is a rebuilding one but we need in Alberta a strong, solid opposition that can keep the government to account,” Jean, a 52-year-old lawyer and businessman, said with a number of Wildrose candidates standing behind him.
One assumes Jim Prentice felt the same way, or he wouldn’t have broken Alberta’s fixed election date law in his eagerness to go to the polls.
So what on earth happened? How is it that the PCs are now bleeding on both sides?
The orange wave is easier to explain. Here’s the combined Liberal/NDP vote share for the last 6 elections:
Despite the caricature of Alberta as a conservative hegemony, the left regularly collects over a third of the vote. Liberal and NDP voters rallied to Alison Redford to stop the Wildrose last election, but there’s likely a lot of buyers remorse on that front. Prentice has done little for progressive Albertans since taking power, and by showing a deaf ear on the issue of Gay-Straight alliances, he essentially ripped up the “Wildrose are scary bigots” card that Redford played to perfection three years ago. With progressives abandoning the PCs, it’s understandable they would gravitate to the NDP – they have a strong leader in Rachel Notley, while the provincial Liberals are in complete disarray.
The dynamics on the right are more difficult to understand.
The Wildrose looked like a smoldering ruin after Danielle Smith’s defection this fall. They’ve still got money in the bank, and a new leader – but Brian Jean was an unimpressive backbencher, and he’s had little time to introduce himself to voters. With all due respect to Jean, it’s safe to say he’s not responsible for the Wildrose resurgence. Rather, this appears to be driven by anger over a bad news budget that pleased no one.
Given many pollsters wrote PC obituaries three years ago, I haven’t talked to a single person who believes Prentice will lose. The common wisdom is that once Albertans blow off steam over the budget, they’re going to realize they’re electing a government, and neither the Wildrose nor the NDP were even pretending to be ready for government a few weeks ago.
Danielle Smith was someone who sounded like she could run the province. Brian Jean? Not so much. Smith must sob every time a new poll comes out.
But Prentice is now fighting a war on two fronts, with 44 years of baggage on his shoulders and the low price of oil pulling him down. If the last month has taught us anything, it’s that we’d be foolish to make any predictions about how this one will turn out.