A blue tsunami swept through Alberta yesterday and was bigger than most polls predicted. I kind of thought there would be a polling error, just didn’t know which direction it would be in as PCs in the past always outperformed polls so was this an underestimation of incumbency or of a particular party and I think we have the answer now. Obviously this will have profound implications not just for Alberta but for the whole country. Below will look at what happened, why, and implications for Alberta, the country, and conservatism.
Outside the two cities, the UCP won massively and this is no surprise. Despite my earlier comments on Alberta changing, rural Alberta still remains staunchly conservative and in fact outside Atlantic Canada, rural areas are generally dominated by right of centre parties provincially so this is a trend not unique to Alberta. I think it is a combination that people in rural areas are more individualistic and put more emphasis on individual responsibility. But also it is about who connects with them. Many have little interest in the latest social justice cause as it deals with issues far away while conservative politicians have done a good job at an emotional level of connecting with people here and speaking directly to their concerns. While rural areas will always be more conservative, I think progressives need to start focusing more on pocket book issues and less on the latest social justice cause if they want to regain some traditional areas here. Of the two cities, in many ways we saw reversion to what was typical under the Klein era: Calgary largely conservative and Edmonton largely progressive. Calgary is changing and on social issues is fairly progressive, but at the end of the day it was economics that drove the ballot question there. With unemployment high and economy struggling, people went for the party that they felt would best deal with economic issues at hand and other issues were a mere distraction. In many ways, both cities voted for whom would be best for them economically. Calgary relies heavily on the private sector so it is not surprising they would favour a pro energy and pro free market choice. Edmonton by contrast has a large civil service so naturally they would favour a party that wants to expand rather than cut social programs. So while Alberta is changing, conservatism is by no means dead there, but nor is progressivism, it simply comes down to whom can deal best the issues of the day. With the NDP forming the official opposition, I believe they will someday return to power in Alberta, but it may take a few election cycles.
I felt Kenney largely struck the right tone. Yes he was somewhat combative, but I think he reflects the anger and frustration many Albertans have. As a Canadian first, I believe it is in our interest to see all provinces prosper and thus despite living on the West Coast I support the pipeline. I think his speaking in French to Quebecers was good and I do believe Quebec and Alberta despite their differences can have a productive relation. With BC, I will just say things are going to get interesting and who knows how it will end up. As for federal-provincial, Trudeau is losing one ally after another and unlike when he came to office and dealt with mostly progressive minded premiers, he now has to face largely conservative premiers who have a different vision on how government should operate. As for what this means for federal results, Alberta was already going to go mostly Conservative no matter what so not a lot there, but may have an impact elsewhere. With mostly conservative premiers, I am of two minds of how this could turn out:
- Canadians are generally centrist so since we have a left of centre federal government, having right of centre balances things out and people will wish to maintain this balance
- Nowadays, politics is a lot more polarized so you get a lot fewer crossover votes so we could be seeing a strong conservative backlash to recent progressive policies and this may take Trudeau down. If there is one mistake the left has made, they have tried to push too much too fast and want to go further than many are ready for, so you are seeing a backlash. Canadians are all for progressive ideas, but they want gradual moderate change and many rightly feel your so called social justice warriors who dominate left of centre parties now aren’t interested in doing things slowly and carefully.
As for Rachel Notley, I think despite my disagreement with her on many economic policies, she handled the job quite well for the difficult circumstances and I believe she should stay on as leader. Alberta is not naturally an NDP province and with just about any other leader, the party would have faced a much worse result. Coming back to office in 2023 won’t be easy and probably an uphill battle, but at least I believe she has a broad enough appeal she can ensure the party stays relevant and if opportunity arises maybe win. If she steps down, the party will probably swing further to the left making them irrelevant outside a few core hip areas in Edmonton and a healthy democracy needs a strong opposition. But if she decides to run elsewhere, I would suggest much like Bob Rae and Ujjal Dosanjh, she should consider going over to the Liberals as she seems like a better fit there than the NDP. And while I probably couldn’t vote for her, at least she has a strong level of competence that our current PM lacks. In fact even with Jason Kenney who I find a little too right wing at times, I believe he is more effective, capable, and competent than Doug Ford is.
As for what this means for conservatism, I think it is too early to tell. Things looked pretty bleak four years ago for those on the political right, whereas now they have the sail in their winds. But with how dissatisfaction with government and a rapidly changing world, this could be a blip just like our progressive trend four years ago or a long term trend. It does seem unlike in the past, Canadians are much less forgiving and much more eager to toss governments out so perhaps one term governments will become the norm.