The Ugly: How the Election Was Won.
The meanest, nastiest, angriest, most hyper-partisan and divisive election in Alberta history is now over, but the bitterness is still active. True to form, Albertans elected another majority government. Uniquely, for the first time, the sitting government did not get a second term.
The political heat from the Kenney versus Notley leadership focus paid little attention to crucial policy options. The goal for the NDP or UCP was to defeat, and if possible, destroy the other side. Third party Political Action Committee money was used to push destructive advertising set up negative advertising websites by each side.
The economy was so dominant and symbolized by the delayed TransMountain pipeline that UCP racism, bigotry, hate and voter fraud and funding investigations by Elections Alberta and RCMP were all lost in the economic anxiety.
Jason Kenney: Alberta’s Trump Card
The voter decision drivers broke over differences in religion and education. The evangelical religious Right and lower educated people flocked to the Kenney social conservative and a return to the old Alberta Advantage economic message. He was their champion to getting even with an economic system that isn’t working for them. They were prepared to ignore every other Kenney character flaw, allegations of serious UCP illegalities and other damages to democracy because they believed they needed a fighter on their side.
The major difference is Kenney won the popular vote – Big Time. There was an amazing 71.1% turnout with over 1 million Albertans giving the UCP 55% of the popular vote a full 22 points ahead of the 33% voter support for the NDP. Success in turning out the vote was spectacular in rural Alberta. Some of the most controversial, questionable and objectionable UCP candidates got the largest margins of voter support. Alberta’s social conservatives were very effective in getting their candidates nominated and elected.
The Past as Prelude
Kenney continued to be pugilistic in a long-winded agenda of anxiety, anger and political fights his Base believes in. He took a “war-like” stance serving notice that there was going to be fights with Trudeau on carbon taxes, Horgan of BC and Legault of Quebec on pipeline access and an aggressive “war room” tactical assault on environmental groups who are seen to be enemies of Alberta. Of course there will be the continued Left vs Right ideological hyper-partisan battles that dominated the UCP and NDP campaign strategies.
The Also Rans: The Good
The election was bitter-sweet for the Alberta Party and just plain bitter for the Liberals. For the first time the Alberta Party ran a full slate of quality, diverse and community-connected candidates garnering over 170.000 and 9.1% of total votes cast. This is impressive growth compared to the 2015 election where 35 candidates attracted 33,000 votes and 2.2% of total votes. The bitter part was there was not a single Alberta Party candidate got elected and that will be the media narrative, for now.. Most notable losses were the past Leader Greg Clark and current leader Stephen Mandel.
The Liberals were demolished in 2019. Their leader, David Khan, ran in the same constituency as long serving Liberal MLA and party leaders, David Swann. The Liberals but came in 4th. They ran 54 candidates, many of them “paper-candidates who did not really campaign. The Liberals got 1% of the vote with only 18,400 ballots. In 2015 they ran 56 candidates elected one and got 62,000 voters for 4.2% of the total. The trend line is going the wrong way and with the anger being generated against the Federal Liberal “Trudeau” party that spells even more trouble for the Provincial party as a viable entity.
The Rest of the Right: The Bad
There are many other political factions in Alberta’s Right wing politics that did not buy into the Kenney “Unite the Right” movement. They all performed very poorly this election. The Alberta Advantage Party did impressively raised the necessary 8700 citizen signatures to form a political party, likely from disgruntled Wildrosers who supported Brian Jean for the UCP leadership. They only got 5600 votes. That is less than half of the 13500 votes for the new separatists Alberta Independence Party.
The AIP also got party status the hard way, collecting over 8700 citizens signatures on a petition. The AIP ran more candidates than the Liberals too. This is now an established separatist movement and is not something Albertans can ignore. If Kenney fails to win any of the various intergovernmental fights he is picking it is likely the disgruntled Libertarian faction of the UCP will become aggressively separatists,
The upstart Fildebrandt lead Freedom Conservative Party was courting disgruntled former Wildrose supporters through anti-Kenney comments of Brian Jean, but they failed miserably. They ran 24 strategically placed candidates intending to help beat the NDP. They only pulled in 9800 votes for a mere 0.5% of voters. Fildebrandt lost his seat coming 3rd and just some 200 votes ahead of the 4th place Alberta Party candidate. The various collection of Independent voters did almost as well as FCP with 7700 total votes for .4% of total ballots cast. It will be interesting to see what Derek Fildebrandt does now in Alberta politics.
If Kenney fails to deliver on the Christian-Right Wilberforce Project social-conservative agenda that is deeply embedded in his caucus and his own values he may be weakened and face an internal and external crisis. The Pro-Life Alberta Political Association is currently just a shell of a registered party, but is there waiting for the evangelical Christian Right to join. None of that is not going to happen for in the short-term. Will it be delayed long enough that the Right wing Conservative Fragments can’t keep enough presence to be an option when the UCP dis-unites? Time will tell.
The sleeper in all this armchair political speculation is the Alberta Independence Party. They came from nowhere to getting enough grassroots support signing up to qualify for party status. They are tapping into a feeling of many Albertans that the Federal government doesn’t care about Alberta. They see the “coddling” Quebec got from various Canadian governments by threatening separation and feel there is some advantage in Alberta playing the same game. They fielded 61 candidates and producing a pretty impressive and cohesive platform policy.
So Now What?
Well the Alberta Party will be doing some soul-searching campaign analysis. I hope it has a gathering to bring together candidates, volunteers and the amazing number of new party members and supporters. That is the best way to set some longer term goals, including the absolutely critical matter of finding a new leader with the will, wit and wisdom to take up the challenge of being more constructive while the NDP and UCP become more destructive.
The party needs a clearer operating narrative that is better than not being either Left or Right. That can be about going forward in constructive ways, not the destructive backward mindset of the UCP or the stagnant status quo as competitors push us into decline. There is a great opportunity for constructive positioning now as non-partisan Albertan have obvious disdain for the aggressive belligerent adversarial nature of the old style politics of the Left and Right parties.
That new Alberta Party leader will have to build on the growth achieved to date but also be totally committed to expanding fundraising results, build for on-going local community engagement with stronger constituency organizations. Getting attention means she or he will have to be adept at media relations of all kinds and ultimately be able to co-create a relevant and resonant message to attract candidates and volunteers who will commit to winning seats.
There is a new awareness and respect for the Alberta Party but it all depends if the chosen future is for growth of capacity or to retreat into an organizational doldrums. One measure is the amount of post-election fundraising that can be generated to properly resource the Alberta Party as a go-forward viable option.
So What Good Can Come From This?
This blog post is pure speculation, some educated guesswork and Ouija Board based predictions. The last election should be taken seriously by progressives as a catalyst for activist political engagement. If we do not take up this challenge and create some political opportunity, then we content to accept that Alberta’s best days as being socially inclusive, economically responsible and environmentally sustainable are behind us.