Alberta election final thoughts

In 3 days Albertans will go to the polls and hopefully and I also think likely will send Danielle Smith and her ideological government packing. I may update final projection or give a few more if something happens but since busy this weekend I am writing my final thoughts today rather than day before. Below I will give first what I think will happen then what I want to happen and why.

I have all along predicted an NDP majority government and despite polls suggesting a possible UCP win, I still believe this. I do however believe UCP will win the popular vote, but NDP most seats due to voter efficiency. UCP will pile up big margins in rural areas where Smith is popular and likewise higher proportion of population eligible to vote due to being older and few non-citizens and/or arrivals in last six months (Canadians who have lived in province less than six months cannot vote). Some will say I am going on my own bias here, but actually I am looking at past elections that have similar parallels and going off that. In particular, 2004 federal, 2012 Alberta, and 2014 Ontario are ones I am using as proxies. All three involved a controversial right wing candidate who at times looked like they would win, but in all three cases, late breakers broke for whomever would stop them and none of those three were particularly close. I believe the same thing will happen here. Canadians by nature tend to be quite risk averse; I see it even in business sector so when someone seems risky, and Smith certainly is, they go to what they know and are comfortable with. So I don’t believe polls will be exactly right, instead I believe undecided will break heavily for NDP leading to them outperforming polls. When you have conventional candidates, it is easy to poll and if UCP had Toews as leader, I would probably go on topline numbers in my prediction. But when you have controversial candidates usually one of two things happens.

  1. As mentioned, undecided break heavily for candidate who will stop them and they underperform. We have seen this abroad too like last two French elections where Macron outperformed polls and I have found in European elections, far right usually outperforms polls when no chance of winning, but when seen as a risk underperforms.
  2. Social desirability bias leads to those supporting controversial candidate lying to pollsters or not answering which in this case would mean UCP doing better than predicted. Think Trump 2016 here and even Trump 2020 where he lost but outperformed polls.

As such I actually think a close race is a lot less likely than most think since if my prediction doesn’t end up being true, second one does meaning Smith wins by bigger margin than predicted. Still most of #2 types are in rural areas and so that just helps UCP on vote total not seats. In fact, UCP winning by 6-8 points in popular vote but still losing in seats is quite possible. Second one works in US where you are talking about entire state so piling up margins in rural parts can work. But when divided by ridings, this fails. Some say Notley’s corporate tax hike will hurt her, but I believe this is overblown. As I will explain elsewhere, I don’t agree with it, but I think many overestimate how many care about taxes being competitive. As Trudeau showed with his tax hike on top earners and Mulcair’s totally reasonable opposition in that would push top rate over 50%, average person doesn’t care if corporations or rich get taxed more. I am against both as I feel both are bad economics, but I believe both are good politics. And besides still being lowest in Canada, 0% small business tax rate largely inoculates Notley. Comparisons to US won’t work as most Canadians including Albertans proud we have universal health care which they do not and most intuitively know not having to buy health insurance for all your employees probably more than offsets any loss from higher taxes. So in summary below are my predictions and explanation why

NDP – 48 seats – 47%

UCP – 39 seats – 50%

In Calgary, NDP wins 20 of the 26 seats as many there are centrists to slightly right of centre who Notley has made overtures to while Smith scares away. NDP sweeps Edmonton, but UCP still gets around 30% there. Since that only puts NDP at 40 seats, NDP holds St. Albert and Lethbridge West, while gains Morinville-St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, Sherwood Park, Strathcona-Sherwood Park, Banff-Kananaskis, and Lethbridge East. Yes Smith wins popular vote, but largely due to running up margins in rural areas where party already winning, but loses narrowly in donut around Edmonton and Calgary.

Earlier I have already said why I would like to see Notley win. I have never voted NDP in a general election and hope to never do so, but this is one case where I would lend my vote to them if I lived in Alberta. I may not agree with Notley on everything, but I believe she is a decent person who is pragmatic and flexible. More importantly she has reached out to moderates while it seems nowadays too many conservatives both provincially and federally are more interested in ideological purity telling those who are moderate to get lost. So if I could vote there, I would do that and if enough others like me do, they will pay the price. I still am to right of Notley overall but elections are not about perfect options. Rather they are about who is best of available choices and I believe Notley for all her flaws (and she has lots) is far better than Smith. Argument party will dump Smith doesn’t work with me as I fear if win and dumped, another crazy thanks to influence of Take Back Alberta will take over. So for party to be reformed, it must lose. I have always defined myself as a Progressive Conservative and never liked the Reform party and other parties since which have been like it. Likewise I identify more with British style conservatism than American style even though I feel ours needs to uniquely suited to Canada. Since Alberta is birthplace of Reform party and likewise Canada’s most reliable conservative province, I believe a loss here would send an unequivocal message that such policies don’t sell anywhere in Canada. Too many in base keep on making excuses why party needs to go further right. Such a loss would mean unless brain dead, it would be obvious this path is a dead end. So I believe conservatives who want to see conservatism succeed long term should hope for a Notley win as it will help movement more long term despite short term setback. By contrast, just as Reform party’s ideas spread to other provinces, I fear a Smith win will make libertarianism, right wing populism, nastiness, pushing conspiracy theories, and anti-science the new norm for centre-right parties and that would be horrible for our country.

On Notley’s recent corporate tax hike, I disagree but it is not a deal breaker. Due to mechanical effects, I do not believe it will raise revenue needed thus risk of deficits and also one thing businesses like is stability. I also think lowering small business tax while raising on large corporations is actually a bad idea. I get its appeal as we all like mom and pop operations while tend to not care for larger corporations. But this can act as a disincentive for companies to grow larger which should be long term goal. I think raising it to 10% instead of 11% would have made more sense as same level as was under old PCs who she is trying to appeal to and also a full 1.5% below Ontario and Quebec so less risk that either Ford or Legault drop theirs 1% to outbid Alberta. But at 11% still lowest in Canada and combined rate still lower than 26 US states as well so I don’t buy idea businesses will flee. After all question is to where and for those saying US, I think we need to accept that part of having a stronger social safety net means our taxes will be a bit higher, just not too much. Stronger social safety nets do help businesses too as less crime, stronger middle class, a more productive work force. But realistically, I think Alberta needs a sales tax to end the revenue roller coaster and at some point, some premier needs to bite the bullet and implement one even if it means losing next election. With transition away from fossil fuels, we have no idea what future will be like and relying on idea of heavy oil use in future is bad idea. Yes maybe oil use will rise further, maybe falls, we don’t know so better to hedge bets in case it falls. As such use revenue from oil to pay down debt and put into Heritage savings.

In summary, some will say I am not a real conservative for hoping for Notley, but I see this more a reflection how party party has moved so far right that many who once fit in no longer do. Notley’s platform is not that different than what Peter Lougheed pushed for and while Ralph Klein was more conservative, he was not crazy like Smith was. She is essentially Ron DeSantis of the north and I don’t want to go there. After all I am a Canadian first and don’t like being pigeon holed to one ideology and instead like many decide who is best or least worse. Likewise ideological spectrum is a continuum, not a hard wall where if on one side, you must stay on that side. If 1 is far left and 10 is far right, someone who is 6 will probably prefer someone who is a 4 over someone who is a 9 and indeed on CBC vote compass, I came out on right side, Notley slightly left of centre, but still closer to Alberta NDP than UCP for that reason. Finally, I feel Smith is just not fit to be premier and so sometimes when country or province is at stake you need to put aside ideological considerations. Lincoln Project types did that in US and I feel same needed in Alberta.

2 thoughts on “Alberta election final thoughts

  1. Miles, your analysis and your logic about Alberta’s choices right now are strong and deeply thought out in my view. I wish I had your ability to express the nuances of the decisions Albertans face right now to the degree that you demonstrate. I hope with all my heart for Alberta’s sake that you are as so often the case, correct in your prediction #1, a Notley win. I think her winning is actually more important than which party wins this time — because right now, it is painfully clear what Smith’s disastrous lack of integrity and inability to lead looks like.

    I think a good leader can persuade their party to move towards where the citizenry actually need it to go, and pull it away from extremes. We did see that with Lougheed, and with Notley. Neither could accomplish all that they aspired to, but both of these leaders, from very different backgrounds and differing political views, did far more good for Alberta than any others I have seen take the Premier’s seat these past decades. Go Rachael go!


    1. Agreed and I really fear if Smith wins that will be bad news not just for Alberta but Canada as a whole. I saw how Reform’s ideology spread nationally and how that made our politics for worse. I am old enough to remember when former Progressive Conservatives existed federally and agreed or disagreed with them, they were an honourable party that believed in Canadian values and helped move country forward. Now I look at party led by Poilievre who is basically what Reform party was in 90s but now nationally. Her win will embolden him. And while he may lose, I think an election of an emboldened Poilievre vs. an arrogant past best before date Trudeau is quite worrisome.


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