Six thoughts on the Alberta election.
First, this is not that wild a swing. Rachel Notley is a moderate. That’s how she got elected. And, with occasional exceptions like Ralph Klein in his first years, the province’s Conservative governments haven’t been extreme either, with a populist willingness to spend on health and education, and even arts, when it’s politically useful. That’s how they kept getting elected. (Even Klein wasn’t really that extreme. He cut health spending by 15 per cent in his first three years in office, but then put the money back. From 1992 to 2001, Alberta's health spending increased by almost exactly the same percentage as British Columbia's.)
|My dad at 90|
Second, it’s hard to overstate what a total botch Jim Prentice made of this election. I spent last week in Alberta - it was my dad’s 90th birthday - and there was massive disdain for the premier. Despite a fixed election date law, he was seen to have called the vote out of opportunism. He told Albertans they should “look in the mirror” to see who was to blame for the province’s current woes, ignoring the fact his party was in power and persuaded Albertans to support its policies. He proposed increasing taxes for individuals, but not for corporations. He welcomed the mass defection of Wild Rose MLAs to the Conservatives and tried to guarantee some of the defectors party nominations. He was ineffectual in the leaders’ debate, delivering a patronizing “Math is hard” comment to Notley that made him look sexist and arrogant. By campaign’s end, all Prentice had to offer was threats that people should vote for him to stave off some unclear menace. He looked arrogant and out of touch.
Third, the NDP owes a lot of its success to the incompetence of the Conservatives. Even 10 days ago, when I landed in Medicine Hat, there was a sense that the Conservatives could survive if Wild Rose supporters were prepared to hold their noses and vote strategically to block the NDP. But with each day, the polls showed the Conservatives running farther behind, in third place in many ridings. Strategic voting lost any appeal. The party’s brand stunk of failure.
Fourth, voters didn’t just ignore the warnings of doom from the corporate supporters of the Conservatives. Their presumption in assuming the right to tell people how to vote damaged Prentice. The four major daily newspapers - apparently on orders from their Toronto-based, U.S-controlled head office - endorsed Prentice, and were also ignored.
Fifth, the new NDP government is likely going to have some big problems. I was newspapering in Peterborough in 1990 when Bob Rae won a surprise NDP victory in Ontario. Our New Democrat candidate was a high school teacher who had run with no expectation of winning, and then found herself energy minister. It did not go well. The Alberta New Democrats had four seats in the legislature. Now Notley needs to come up with a cabinet. Even with qualified people, there is a learning curve and there are bound to be missteps.
Sixth, give credit to Notley. She made a connection with voters, raised the idea that taxes are a useful way to pay for services and noted that different segments of society have different interests. Voters liked her better than the other leaders and trusted her more, enough to reject the fear-mongering. That’s a great asset for any new premier.