Where Are We and How Did We Get Here?
Alberta has elections dates “fixed” by law, every four years between March 1 and May 31. The legislation is so loose it can hardly considered binding. For example, Premier Prentice went a whole year early. His “strategic” advantage was a disaster. He was at the helm as a 40+ year Progressive Conservative dynasty disappeared, as did he, on election night in 2015.
That said, there is a strategic advantage in election timing and the ruling party holds all the cards because the Premier sets the election date. That is not the same as controlling the reality of any campaign period. Before the Writ drops which officially starts an election, all kinds of campaigning goes on by political parties.
These American-style Political Action Committees spend big buck on issues and attack advertising that usually support the NDP or the UCP. This pre-campaign fundraising and spending all done with loose rules, weak legislation with historically lax enforcement.
For two years, since Jason Kenney left Federal politics, after Harper’s scathing election loss to Trudeau. Kenney declared he was coming home to Alberta” to “Unite the Right”.” His only goal was to beat the Notley “accidental government”
Kenney’s succeeded because he is now leader of the United Conservative Party (UCP) made of his personal loyalists. He has abandoned the debt-ridden Progressive Conservative shell and merged and purged any political infrastructure of Brian Jean’s Wildrose Party. All this was done in campaign-style preparation for the next election.
The NDP have watched this Unite the Right Kenney crusade and are equally focused and fervent on beating the UCP. They have been in the “Red Zone” of election readiness and governing in campaign mode for two years as well.
What this political pugilism has spawned a hyper-partisan Left versus Right, radical extremist attracting, Base pandering and bitterly ad hominem leader bashing Alberta political culture. All indication are this election is going to be nasty and brutish. It already has a lot of history so it can’t be called short. (apologies to Thomas Hobbes)
Who is Battle Ready?
There has been lots going on in Pre-Writ campaigning, especially in recruiting candidates. There are lots of questionable internal party nomination irregularities (aka corruption) especially in UCP activities but NDP allegations are now emerging. As of mid-January the controversial UCP has 79 nominated candidates, closest to a full roster of 87. The upstart alternative Alberta Party is next with 56 candidates already knocking on doors. Surprisingly, the governing NDP is lagging with only 37 identified candidates as of mid-January.
Alberta’s political culture now has third-party fundraising and American-style special interest Political Action Committees. They are thinly veiled partisans engaged in negative and attack advertising. They are adding heat to the negative hyper-partisanship of Left versus Right ugly political gamesmanship.
The KenneyCons are the most organized and best funded. His autocratic and dictatorial leadership style is causing internal party problems. An entire constituency Boards quit, sitting MLAs are going Independent, making allegations of UCP corruption. If that isn’t enough to deal with, some Kenney candidate favourites have withdrawn due to racist and other bigoted Bozo Eruptions or disqualified for Election Alberta breaches.
The Right is no longer United under Kenney. There are three new conservatives parties started since Kenney took over the UCP. And now the defeated UCP leadership candidate, Brian Jean, is resurrecting as a grassroots political force. The Conservative vote in Alberta is splitting and fragmenting and “Kenney the Uniter” is mostly to blame.
Will the Election Call be Early or Late?
Given the scandals and controversies, it is small wonder that Kenney has been taunting Premier Notley to call the 2019 election as early as possible under the law. She has not taken the bait but she has now narrowed the time frame. The Legislature will reconvene on March 18, meaning the 28 day campaign period puts the earliest election date would be in the middle to late April.
There will be a Throne Speech that will be an announcement proxy for the NDP accomplishments and hints at the campaign platform. I’m betting there will be no Budget tabled because there isn’t going to be any good news in the fiscal file. If you can’t say anything nice, why say anything at all.
What is the Ballot Question?
Spoiler Alert! It’s the TMX pipeline but mostly as a proxy for other frustrations. The mood and the polls tell us the Ballot Question is already set. It’s the economy and the tepid recovery. It is all symbolized by frustrating approval delays in the TransMountain Pipeline project.
The frustrations feed angry and sometimes ugly radical Yellow Vest protests based on a belief that the Federal Liberal government isn’t interested in helping Alberta “in our time of need.”
Regardless of the so-called ballot question the underlying issue us what do Albertans want? Albertans have always wanted a fiscally prudent government with a progressive social policy and responsible achievable environmental stewardship. The major Parties only offer 2 out of 3, at best.
The alternative mood for the majority of Albertans, who identify as Progressives, is for a saner, sensible and centrist political option. Progressives are also getting frustrated but by the nasty Left versus Right, He-Said vs She-Said political snipping.
They want to see some real forward-thinking leadership from the leadership of the partisan combatants. So far all we are getting is more marginalized divided political tribalism.
The reality about options is the collapse of Alberta’s Liberal Party, the dormant Greens and the thinly veiled Separatist leaning Freedom Conservative Party. With Brian Jean trolling through Facebook the emerging WRP knock-off (aka Alberta Advantage Party) is rumbling around with Jean taking over the leadership mostly revenge against Kenney.
Then we have the emerging of a progressive Alberta Party. Full disclosure, I am one of the Founders, and recently reactivated my involvement. Former Edmonton Mayor, Stephen Mandel, became the Alberta Party leader in February 2018. Alberta Party candidates are eager, young, diverse, inclusive with a lot of women plus veterans and seasoned politicos to balance fiscal, social and environmental policy force. They are second in nominated candidates and promise a full slate this election.
What is going to happen next election is an open question to my mind. Unscientific polls show a preference for the UCP but campaigns matter. As to when the campaign happens depends a lot on the timing of the next “final” Federal Cabinet positive approval of the TransMountain Pipeline. My bet on that Ottawa decision is early to Mid April and the Writ drops the next day.
Time will tell but I expect a vicious, volatile and very intense election campaign. I think the best hope is for a minority government with the Alberta Party holding the balance of power. that can control the centralized power of the major party leadership, temper any radical base-pandering policy approaches and get more integrity and transparency in Alberta’s politics. It will giver Albertans more time to decide if they want to go Left, Right of Forward in the next election.
What do you think? Looking forward to your ideas and comments on this blog post.