Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Where do we go from here?

The end result of Monday's Alberta election may have been yet another crushing PC majority, but it's impossible to deny Alberta's political climate hasn't been permanently altered. With the Wildrose Party now her majesty's loyal opposition, each party faces unique challenges in adapting to this new political climate. Voters showed a willingness to change their vote this election, so any party failing to adapt risks extinction.

The PCs

Yes, they nearly blew it. Yes, they lost seats. But Monday was nothing short of complete triumph and total dominance by the PCs. In other words - the usual.

While the PCs have never been shy about knifing successful leaders, most of the discontents have fled to the Wildrose Party, so Redford's leadership is likely safe...for now.

The challenge facing Redford is that she leads a very different PC Party than the one she inherited less than a year ago. Ted Morton and much of the rural caucus went down in defeat, and the PCs won their mandate from a vastly different coalition of voters than in 2008. If the polls are to be believed (ha ha ha!), half of all 2008 PC voters saddled up with Smith this campaign, while half of all 2008 Liberal voters jumped to Redford. In the process, the PC "base" has shifted considerably - Redford's mandate was effectively given to her by liberals. If she governs like "your father's PC Party", there's no way those voters will buy in to any kind of "Stop Smith" movement in 2016.

Of course, if she governs like a Liberal, she risks more bleeding to the Wildrose Party, who will now be staring her down in the legislature. In the past, the PCs have faced off against Liberal professors and doctors who cared more about policy than sound bytes. Now, they’ll be up against a well funded and media savvy libertarian. Gone are the days when elections could be won with a few simple chants of “NEP!” and by outspending their opponents by a factor of ten.

The Wildrose represent a new kind of opponent. The PCs have never had to worry about their right flank before, so Redford will have her hands full keeping everyone inside the PC tent happy.

Wildrose Party

Once the tears have dried, my advice to the Wildrose Party is to take a deep breath, take a vacation, and look at the big picture.

This party rose from the ground up, and won over 34% of the electorate in their first election with Danielle Smith. That's better than Peter Lougheed fared in his rookie campaign as PC leader, and it leaves the Wildrose well positioned to form government in 2016.

To do that, Smith need look no further than the path to power taken by another Albertan, Stephen Harper. After coming close in 2004, Harper regrouped, developed a plan, and came back with a vengeance in 2006, running one of the best campaigns in Canadian political history. He had a moderate and focused platform, took social issues completely off the table, and avoided the “bozo eruptions” that had doomed him two years earlier.

Smith’s challenge in the coming years is therefore to silence the extremists in her party, and present her caucus as a government in waiting. To do that, she will need to tone down the rhetoric in the legislature and moderate her positions - Smith's musings on reconsidering the party's climate change, firewall, and conscience rights positions is already a step in the right direction.

What’s Left of the Left

For a party that lost over half of its vote Monday night, the Liberals have actually got to be feeling pretty good about the outcome. They held 5 seats when many were predicting a shut-out, and stayed (barely) ahead of the NDP both in terms of seats and popular vote.

While the NDP would have liked to vault ahead of the Grits, they doubled their caucus to four seats, tying their best showing in 20 years. Brian Mason can stick around as leader if he wants to, but the NDP are usually pretty good about giving all their MLAs a turn as party leader so it wouldn’t surprise me if the torch is passed to Rachel Notley or David Eggen.

Of course, these feel good results mask the reality that the status quo isn’t working. With the PCs shifting under Redford, there simply isn’t enough room for both these parties to be viable on the left of the spectrum.

In an ideal world, the two would simply merge, take the Alberta Party’s name and Twitter handle, and recruit a charismatic leader from outside their current MLA ranks. The thing is, I just can’t see a situation where the membership of either the Liberals, NDP, or Alberta Party would agree to this type of arrangement. Such has always been the story among Alberta progressives, who value pride above power.

That’s not to say it’s a hopeless situation. If Redford falters, the opportunity for someone on the left to squeeze out the PCs could present itself. The 30-40% of Albertans who always voted Liberal or NDP before this last election are still around, even if many parked their vote with Redford. If someone comes along able to capture their imagination, it wouldn't be unfathomable for them to move ahead of the PCs, the same way Jack Layton vaulted ahead of the Liberals federally last spring.

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen, but when you consider how volatile Alberta’s political climate has been of late, it would be foolish to assume there won’t be a surprise or two in the coming years.


  • "In an ideal world, the two would simply merge, take the Alberta Party’s name and Twitter handle, and recruit a charismatic leader from outside their current MLA ranks."

    THIS +1

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 12:02 p.m.  

  • The neo-con crew in Ottawa has targeted the Mayor of Calgary for defeat in the next municipal election. If they succeed in defeating him (or if he decides not to run again) Naheed Nenshi would be the perfect candidate to unite the Libs, NDP, Alberta Party, and the left wing of the PCs. The votes are there. Alberta could be governed progressively if a few backroom political hacks could set aside their egos for even one election cycle and act in the best interests of all.

    By Blogger Dan F, at 12:17 p.m.  

  • Of course in comments on other blogs, I have been begging Mayor Nenshi to jump to Federal politics and run for the leadership of the LPC.

    By Blogger Dan F, at 12:18 p.m.  

  • Nenshi would be great either provincially or federally, but Calgary usually gives their mayors 3 terms, so we're probably a leadership cycle away from seriously talking about him at either level.

    And the man loves municipal politics, so I don't think he's eager to jump.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:15 p.m.  

  • What about Mandel?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:28 p.m.  

  • "In an ideal world, the two would simply merge, take the Alberta Party’s name and Twitter handle, and recruit a charismatic leader from outside their current MLA ranks."

    I see why this is appealing to the Liberals but I don't see what the NDP would gain from this?

    By Anonymous marc from soccer, at 2:33 p.m.  

  • I see why this is appealing to the Liberals but I don't see what the NDP would gain from this?

    ....the chance to elect someone in the province south of the Whitemud Freeway? Otherwise that ain't gonna happen.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:53 p.m.  

  • re: Anonymous:

    That very old-style Liberal party thinking. And what's the benefit of that to the NDP?

    Whiel would an NDP want to ditch their party, kill brand, compromise a bunch of their 'beliefs/principles/etc' to merge with a party with a massively broken brand led by a former PC?

    Just to be able to count those already-elected Liberals (all of three) as members of their team? That's no benefit at all.

    By Anonymous Marc de la soccer, at 3:15 p.m.  

  • Not sure how the NDP could merge with another party provincially, except to simply fold up shop. Or are they unique in Alberta in having a separate Party provincially and federally?

    Then again, Bob Rae has his sights set on merging the Liberals with the NDP once he wins the permanent leadership of the federal Liberals, and Jean Chretien has already given his support to such a merger.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:45 p.m.  

  • I don't think a merger amongst the non-conservative parties will fly with anyone other than the Liberals. For my part I joined the Alberta Party not because I wanted to avoid the 'Liberal' brand but because it's an experiment in new ways to run a party. It remains to be seen how well the experiment will work in the long run but a merger with a traditional party would likely end it.

    The real problem will be if the Liberals ran up large debts again in this campaign. If they have then a merger would be very unlikely as no other party is going to want to take those on.

    It's also worth noting that the Alberta Party membership has people from all the other parties, including the WRP. We're not simply disaffected Liberals.

    By Blogger Paul Turnbull, at 6:02 p.m.  

  • "I see why this is appealing to the Liberals but I don't see what the NDP would gain from this?"

    Effective opposition in the legislature and just making life harder for the PC come to mine. Some actual safe seats, more competitive seats for the left, more traction in the political discourses, the chance to form government and enact policy are other reasons to get a single party on the left.

    The first past the post really magnified the PC victory to look like a landslide when it was fairly close. The WRA lost 10 seats despite getting over 40% of the vote. That is hard to do in a multiparty election. Also the Calgary outcome are interesting Liberal party got 12% of the vote and 3 sears WRA got 36% of the vote and 2 seats.

    By Anonymous Chad, at 7:30 p.m.  

  • I have a feeling that the Wildrose Party might be in some real trouble. I get the sense that Redford is taking the PCs back to the position they had under Lougheed. The 1990s changed a lot but it's important to remember that the PCs initially won power as an urban and centrist party, attacking Social Credit from the left. Now being right of a centrist party isn't exactly a bad position in Alberta but my sense of the rural parts of this province is that they don't want to be perpetually in opposition. Having an MLA in the government caucus has its benefits. I'd say that if the Wildrose doesn't look capable of an urban break though in the next election and the ability to form government that comes with it, then they'll have trouble maintaining their current seat total. Rural Alberta didn't necessarily want to give up on Social Credit and hand Lougheed a landslide but they wanted a voice at the table.

    My reading here could also be bad news for the Liberals. Going back to Lougheed again, when Social Credit died and a new opposition arose it was New Democrats. If Redford can govern well enough for many Alberta Liberal voters, just as she apparently campaigned well enough, then what's the point of having their own party?

    To anonymous @ 2:53, the NDs (no party at the time) took a number of Calgary ridings in the 1980s and they were close enough this time in Lethbridge-West, where they led for a long stretch at the beginning, that they could taste it.

    By Anonymous Robin, at 10:06 p.m.  

  • @Marc and Robin, have you seen the regional vote numbers?

    I'm no Liberal apologist, I think their name and brand are cooked. But if you look at the Calgary vote, the hated Liberal brand was more than double the NDP. If you think that indicates future success, I don't follow you.

    In summary I see the NDs only having success in Edmonton (their only federal seat is central Edmonton). I don't have the answer, but I wish the left would consolidate under some sort of electable brand. I would agree with you that "Alberta Liberals" won't be it. But NDP? Is there a rural breakthrough on the horizon I don't know about?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:36 p.m.  

  • I don't think the left is going to consolidate per se. I do think the centre and right is going to consolidate over the next stretch. Either the rural right will suck it up and vote PC or the WP will appeal to centrist voters in the cities. That will either leave us in a situation akin to the 80s (if its the PCs under Redford that triumph) or the 90s (if its the Wildrose). Currently I'm favouring the former as the more likely outcome. The 80s, with a centrist PC party, were good for the New Democrats and bad for the Liberals. The 90s, with a rightwing PC party, were a bad time for the New Democrats and a good time for the Liberals.

    Now until the PCs and Wildrose settle their differences, I think we're in the 70s which was a bad time for both New Democrats and Liberals.

    As for the NDP having a rural breakthrough (or the Liberals for that matter), yeah I don't think it will happen. I think that the days of leftist rural constituencies is long behind us, at least for a while. The reasons why leftwing parties used to succeed in rural areas (and rightwing parties in urban areas) might come back but for the time being rural/urban issues seem to cleave well along right/left lines (except in exceptional cases like Northern Ontario and parts of BC with high First Nations populations or a strong union movement in an industry town, basically circumstances that don't exist in Alberta).

    I'm really not saying that the NDP are going to start winning elections in this province. What I'm saying is that either the NDP or the Liberals are going to end up forming a moderately sized opposition, say 10-25 seats, and I think it is more likely to be the NDP. My rationale mostly has to do with the point I outlined earlier, that a centrist PC party is more likely to triumph and that favours the NDP, but it also has to do with factors relating to the difference between NDP voters and Liberal voters. NDP voters in this province seem to only break Liberal when it looks like the Liberals might win (that or they broke PC to defeat Decore, but that kind of proves my point given Decore's platform) whereas rightwing Liberal voters seem willing to break to a centrist PC party (as they did throughout the Lougheed and Getty ministries) and leftwing Liberal voters seem willing to break NDP (as they presumably did in 86 and 89) when the NDP seems likely to be the opposition. A federal situation involving a strong NDP and a weak Liberal party helps too since the NDPs unified structure gives the provincial wing something to fall back on.

    Basically my point is that the pundits were right, this was the 1971 election being refought. I just tend to think that, ignoring incumbency, the party that looked a lot more like Lougheed's PCs wasn't the Wildrose and the party that looked like Social Credit has direct historical links to Social Credit.

    As for the Alberta Party, I don't see them going anywhere fast.

    By Anonymous Robin, at 12:42 a.m.  

  • I think the problem is that the NDP and Liberals are both broadly urban parties in a province with two large cities that have divergent interests (as opposed to most provinces where there is a clearer urban core to the province, or less sectoral differences between urban areas).

    What I'm going to suggest is that Alberta politics aren't really about "left and right" (I mean they are, but the specific issues that are fought over are tied to different matters. Rather they are about urban-rural divisions, and oil development vs. diversification.

    Alberta actually has a diverse political economy, despite how it is usually depicted. If you look at the labour force survey, Calgary and Edmonton differ in important ways:

    Calgary has the business end of the oil-patch, and a rising high tech sector. Edmonton has less high tech, and more public administration and education jobs. They differ on the issues as well - Calgary for instance is the most opposed region when it comes to raising oil royalties. Edmonton is most supportive (and the rest of Alberta is closer to Edmonton on that one).

    This makes it hard to rise up as a party that is principally harping on issues that spark urban-rural divide. 2008 Liberal efforts in Calgary, for instance, were undone by the replacement of the consummately Calgarian Klein with the Edmontonian (and Ukrainian to boot!) Stelmach.

    In the southeast - the areas where the Wild Rose Party broke through - you have agriculture. In much of the other rural areas, however, resource extraction (esp. oil) are the biggest employers. And toward the Rockies, its tourism. If you think about an issue like the property rights debate, you can see why folks outside of the southeast wouldn't really care.

    A merged Liberal-NDP party would probably be a basically urban pro-diversification party able to win Edmonton, but not Calgary.

    What might work just as well, however, would be for the Liberals and NDP to redesign their parties in a way such that they stopped stepping on one another's toes.

    The NDP can become an anti-oil patch Edmonton-based party, seeking to expand into areas of Alberta where oil extraction is not a major issue (eg. lumber districts, or touristy areas reliant on a clean environment). Though at their core they will be a Bloc Edmonton, sounding like Gilles Duceppe as they ask: "What's in it for Edmonton?"

    The Liberals can become a more patch-friendly Calgary-based party, and seek to make inroads among the Newfies up in Fort McMurray.

    By specializing (and possibly not contesting some ridings against one another) they can each outbid the PCs and Wildrose party for the support of some voters.

    By Anonymous hosertohoosier, at 1:45 a.m.  

  • Re: Chad: ”Effective opposition in the legislature and just making life harder for the PC come to mind."

    They can collaborate now as near equals in opposition on an issue-by-issue basis if they wish to.

    ”Some actual safe seats, more competitive seats”

    Seats aren't going to get any safer. Voting patterns are already polarized - of nine NDP/Liberal held seats, the other party came in a vastly distant fourth in eight. If you're in an NDP riding and you're not PC/WR, pretty much everyone is voting NDP. Ditto for the Liberal ridings.

    Seats also aren’t going to get much more competitive. The Liberals came in second in Cal-Cross, and the NDP came in second in Ed-Glenora and Lethbridge-West but combining the two votes still doesn’t win those seats.

    Merging the two parties gets you wins in all of three ridings - Ed-Riverview, Gold Bar, and Millwoods. That’s it. Those wins, however, require ever single NDP/Liberal voter to vote for the new party, which will not happen – particularly on the NDP side.

    The gain from voters switching to the new party is zero to negative.

    “the chance to form government and enact policy are other reasons to get a single party on the left."

    Neither party, together or alone, is anywhere near a chance to form government.

    Plus, it will cease to be a party of the ‘left’ to the majority of ‘left’ voters. Liberals need to understand that whatever their individual perception of their party’s collective values is, the NDP does not see them as 'left'. Raj Sherman is not ‘left’. The Liberals as a party are not ‘left’ even in Alberta really. Merge the two parties and likely 50 percent or more of the NDP will leave to new entity to start anew.

    Re: Anonymous: "But if you look at the Calgary vote, the hated Liberal brand was more than double the NDP. If you think that indicates future success, I don't follow you."

    Of 29 seats in Calgary, the Liberals were competitive in four. If we want to be nice about it, we’ll include Klein and Currie and say six (if breaking the 1000 vote barrier is competitive). Again, what does that do for the NDP?

    I’ve been involved in both parties a bit. I’m no expert mind you, but I can say that if I were an Alberta NDP, I’d have zero reason to join with the Liberals. Just because another party (PC) ate the Liberals' ground on the political spectrum, it does not make for a merger.

    By Anonymous Marc of soccer once, at 9:45 a.m.  

  • In my mind, three parties capable of winning 2-15 seats are a lot less likely to make a difference and advance the progressive agenda than one party able to win 10-30 seats. But I think the discussion here illustrates clearly why the left will never come together in Alberta.

    Beyond the logistical hurdles due to the federal party connection, Alberta NDP members are simply not concerned about winning more than 4 seats. That's not a knock by any means, but if you value principle over power, there's no point in a merger.

    Alberta Party partisans joined the party because they didn't like the Liberals or NDP. While I'd argue getting the name in a new merged party is a pretty good cut for a party that earned 1% of the vote, I don't get any sense that there's an appetite for it. I mean, the Alberta Party has been more critical of the Liberals than any other party, even though they have basically the same platform.

    Liberals might be more supportive of a merger, given that they've come closer to power than the others, but Alberta Liberals are a lot more idealistic than grits in other provinces. Losing for 90 years will do that to you, and those who want a taste of power have already fled to the PCs. If you're still a Liberal in Alberta at this point, you probably have a deep connection to the brand.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:14 a.m.  

  • H2H - There might be some merit in that. The shift of the Liberal power base from Edmonton to Calgary has been interesting to watch in recent years.

    Maybe there's some merit in a few non-compete pacts between the two parties as a first step. It would mean a few extra seats likely, though it wouldn't do anything to get the left closer to power.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:17 a.m.  

  • This is a super interesting discussion. Personally, I think if you're not competing for power each and every election, the discussion of the one-party vs multiple-parties becomes irrelevant outside of the workings of the Leg.

    Whether it is one party with a 5-25 floor/ceiling or two parties with 3-15 and 2-10 floor/ceiling means little.

    I think the view of an NDP would be that they have more voice and effectiveness on their own in small numbers rather than as half to one-third of a party in which they may have serious reservations about the princioples, stances and views of the other members. And a Lib wouldn't want to get bogged down in all that social justice and union stuff.

    "Losing for 90 years will do that to you, and those who want a taste of power have already fled."

    This is it exactly exactly exactly, for both parties. If you're still voting NDP in Alberta, particularly in Calgary, there's a good reason you're not voting Liberal; and if you're voting Liberal in Alberta, particularly in Edmonton or apparently Lethbridge now, there's a good reason you're not voting NDP.

    Plus, the internal culture of both groups (in my limited non-Alberta experience) is very different.

    I enjoyed your Alberta election blogs. Good job.

    By Anonymous Marc from the sidelines, at 11:07 a.m.  

  • Ah, here it goes again ... the infighting to pick up the crumbs begins between the centre-left losers, as it does after every single election.

    What a complete waste of talent, donations, and everyone's time to try to get relatively similar parties to discuss cooperation or working together. No wonder good and well-intentioned, reasonable progressives pull away from politics after every election to let a whole new generation exhaust themselves by trying to re-invent the NON-cooperative wheel all over again, only to fail dismally, every time. After all, let's never try any NEW ideas or try to come up with some new vision of cooperation for the province.

    Sadly, centre-left politics in Alberta are a farce, and what makes it worse is that it is perpetuated by the egotistical parties and Balkanistic leaders themselves, and not all coming from the other side. After all, who cares about all the progressive voters who want to see a better government elected?

    So here's how it goes: People of logic who have tried to talk sense to these parties into working together will just give up, as they always do after every election. That's right, Brian, Raj, and Glenn.
    YOU. WIN.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:14 a.m.  

  • I don't think any sort of merger between the NDP & Liberals, plus or minus the Alberta Party, is ever going to happen. The NDP for one has much too solid a brand at the national level (and I don't just mean "federal", but in the other provinces as well) to want to do any such thing; then only Liberal-NDP "merger" they would ever look at would be to sign up former Liberal Party members as card-carrying NDs.

    What might be viable, however, is some sort of temporary collaboration amongst these three non-conservative parties, with the specific goal of trying to get enough influence (i.e. seats) to achieve proportional representation. Had this election been held under a PR system, for example, the seat counts (based on the popular vote percentages) would have been: PC 38, WR 30, NDP 9, Lib 9, AP 1. In other words, a minority government. Which of the two larger parties would the NDs & Liberals (and lone AP MLA) support in such a scenario? Interesting question.

    By Anonymous jerrymacgp, at 9:50 a.m.  

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