Political junky that I am, I can’t get enough of the analysis being generated in the aftermath of the Alberta election, which saw Premier Alison Redord and the Progressive Conservatives defy virtually all the polls to beat Danielle Smith and her Wildrose Alliance party.
It’s truly a fascinating result that holds lessons for the entire country, a few of which I mused about earlier this week.
Here are some more that have been rattling around my brain.
• Redford, the onetime adviser to former prime minister and national Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark, won on a socially progressive but fiscally conservative platform, showing that Red Toryism is alive and well in Canada. As Thomas Walkom argued in the Toronto Star, in defining the term made popular by University of Toronto political science professor Gad Horowitz, “Parties that are successful in this country tend to marry fiscal conservatism with social progressivism. They support free markets but don’t make a fetish of them.
“As a result, Red Tories don’t hesitate to intervene in the economy to serve what they define as the public interest. Successive Red Tory governments used the state to build railways and public hydro-electricity networks. One invented the CBC.”
Redford is definitely a conservative in the Red Tory mode. Red Tories still exist. Really, truly.
• Like many results in our first-past-the-post parliamentary system, the Alberta vote shows why proportional representation is more democratic: the PCs won 71 per cent of the seats with 44 per cent of the vote, while Wildrose won 20 per cent of the seats with 34 per cent of the vote. Strategic voting of the type that appears to have taken place among Liberal supporters and urban undecideds wouldn’t have been necessary under a PR system. As well, the Liberal party’s vote wouldn’t have collapsed and fled to the PCs in the final days of the campaign – which is likely what happened, if the polls predicting a Wildrose landslide were accurate.
• Following from that, when they make predictions, pollsters, and journalists who report poll results, need to pay more attention to undecided voters, who (like Liberal voters) seemed to have switched in massive numbers to the PCs at the last minute to head off a Wildrose victory. Many of the publicly released polls had large numbers of undecided voters, and they appear to have been inaccurately allocated, as is industry practice, equally among the parties when making predictions about the election outcome.
• Prime Minister Stephen Harper is ultimately strengthened by the Alberta victory, which may seem counterintuitive. Although he wisely didn’t back either Redford’s PCs or the more hard-right Wildrose party, Harper is ideologically much closer to Smith than to Redford, and many Harper loyalists supported Smith. Redford’s victory might seem awkward for Harper initially, but it will help him keep his own red-meat conservative supporters at bay as they kvetch about his ideological impurities in government. This is crucial if he wants to expand beyond his western core. Indeed, he faces the same ideological balancing act as Redford does, and as the indomitable Chantal Hébert argues, “he can’t afford to risk Ontario to please Alberta’s most conservative elements.”
• Redford’s proposal for a national approach to energy policy (led by her province, of course) seems to have resonated with Albertans. Perhaps they don’t want a repeat of the acrimony in the 1970s between Ottawa and Edmonton over oil and gas revenues and pricing. In general, the election seems to show, in part, that most Albertans consider themselves Canadians first. This is perhaps why Redford’s more outward-looking rhetoric and international law resumé appealed to them.
• Redford’s performance over the next four years will be key to whether she’ll be a one-hit wonder or whether she can successfully vanquish the Wildrose on her right flank, or reintegrate Alberta’s hard-right elements back into her own party. If she can, she might emerge as a future national Tory leader, right around the 10-to-12-year mark of Harper’s tenure as PM, when he will either have worn out his welcome with the electorate or have tired of winning majority after majority against a badly divided left. Either way, conservatives (and others) across Canada will be watching her closely.
• Unlike Harper’s Tories, who faced a minority Liberal government after the 2004 election, and thus the prospect of an election relatively soon thereafter, Smith must wait four years before she gets her next shot at beating Redford. A lot can happen in four years, including a Wildrose implosion and a strong performance by Redford and the PCs.
Meanwhile Thomas Mulcair and the NDP will continue to regroup after the death of Jack Layton, and the Liberals will select a new national leader in an effort to scrape themselves off the carpet. As well, elections will be held in Quebec and most likely in minority-ruled Ontario, while Harper’s Tories will have been in power 10 years or more – the best-before date for most governments.
The next half-decade promises to be a very interesting one in Canadian politics.