Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"40 more years! 40 more years!"


How certain was I that Alison Redford would be dealt a humiliating blow last night? I had my "morning after" post time stamped to go up at 8 am, detailing Smith's victory using a colourfull "Wildrose chinook of change" analogy.

It turns out that politics, like the weather, can be unpredictable.

Not that a PC win in Alberta should ever be considered unpredictable. As I mused in my National Post Full Comment article this morning, dynasties do not crumble overnight. The decline of Rome lasted hundreds of years. The Oilers won a cup after dealing Gretzky. The Empire was good for two more movies, even after the Death Star blew up.

And last night, the PC empire struck back in full force:

PC: 61 seats  (44%)
Wildrose: 17  (34%)
Liberal: 5  (10%)
NDP: 4  (10%)

Yes, the PCs who were down by 7-10 points in every poll days before the vote pulled out a crushing 10-point victory.

The comparison I would draw is to the 2004 federal election, when the dying Liberal dynasty succeeded in scaring voters into giving them one last chance. With that in mind, here's my cautionary warning to PC supporters who might have dreams of another 40 years in power:

The situation in this election is eerily similar to the 2004 federal campaign, when 2012 Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan — then working for the federal Conservatives – tried to lead an upstart right wing band of misfits to victory against the natural governing party. In both instances, the incumbent dynasties had knifed successful leaders, and had unrealistic expectations for their new leaders. Just as anonymous PC strategists lamented about winning “too many seats” in February, in 2004 Liberal strategists mused about 200 seats for Paul Martin (which in fairness, Martin got – it just took him two elections to do it).

In both instances, the incumbent badly mismanaged a scandal (Adscam for Paul, the “no meet committee” for Redford), and threw caution to the wind by calling an election in the midst of it. In both instances, Flanagan’s great right hope rose in the polls, pulled into the lead, won the debate…and then blew it in the bottom of the 9th. Both times voters stared change in the face, and decided they weren’t ready for it – yet.

We all know how things turned out federally, and therein lies the cautionary tale for all the players in Alberta. The Wildrose Party now has a base of 35% of the Alberta electorate. They have an impressive, albeit inexperienced, leader in Danielle Smith who now has four years to refine her skills and weed out the thornier candidates from her party’s ranks. If Stephen Harper could make the federal Conservatives look “non-scary”, then surely the photogenic and charismatic Smith can pull off the same trick in Alberta.

The challenge facing the PCs is now the same one that faced Martin in 2004 – they won on a campaign of fear, and won thanks to borrowed votes from the left. It was a brilliant play for which Alberta’s political mastermind Stephen Carter deserves full credit, but it leaves the PCs governing on a shaky foundation. Given the Alberta Liberal Party has received between 25% to 30% of the vote in every election since their near-victory in 1993, some quick napkin math suggests that as much as one-third of the PC vote this campaign came from former Liberal supporters. These voters were willing to look past the decades of the PCs doing everything in government they accused the Wildrose of wanting to do, but they are unlikely to be forgiving if Redford veers to the right again. To keep these voters in the PC tent will require competent, centrist government from Redford — but also a still-scary Wildrose Party come 2016, and the lack of a credible alternative on the left.

I wouldn’t discount that possibility, but holding borrowed votes on the left and preventing further bleeding to the right is a difficult balancing act for any government. While Redford was the big winner Monday, when the book is eventually written on the PC empire, its latest victory could still prove to be the beginning of the end.

28 Comments:

  • So what can we learn from this? Poling is completely useless.

    By Blogger Traciatim, at 12:56 PM  

  • Very insightful commentary by Dan.

    And I would say that it's the interpretation of polling data that's been useless.

    If you look at the trends, and the confidence intervals, the election out come was within expected parameters.

    People think polling is wrong because analysts ignored trends, took one of the many likely outcomes, and ran with it full speed.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 1:12 PM  

  • If the progressive forces in Alberta can learn something from this analysis, and take the next 4 years to get together into 1 party, present a united centre-left option to voters, they might find that after the next election it will be a united left that holds the balance of power in Alberta. Otherwise, get ready for a Wild Rose majority, just 4 years later then you thought.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:22 PM  

  • I'm not sure what the solution is, but with Redford in charge, there certainly isn't enough turf for both the Libs and NDP to be viable left of her.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:24 PM  

  • This did remind me of the 2004 election. Harper looked like he might win, but Martin did the scorched earth thing and pulled NDP votes. But look what happened to the Liberals in the end.

    The Wildrose jump is massively significant compared to 4 years ago. If Raj stays on, the Liberals will continue to fall. The NDP would be wise to get Rachel Notley in as leader sooner than later and move more to the centre and pull even more Liberal votes. If that happens, and the Alberta Party gets its shit together and pulls even more Liberal and PC vote, there will be little left for the PCs to pull from.

    Redford is and will not be a conservative premier in the next four years. Policies will be liberal based and a strong Wildrose opposition will uncover the mass corruption that has been going on. There are currently 70 illegal donation investigations going on against the PCs. This is just the beginning. This will be the PCs adscam amongst other things.

    Liberals who voted PC won't be able to bear voting for them again and will jump to the Alberta Party. Remaining conservatives will go to an improved and disciplined Wildrose.

    In the fall, before the PC leadership, I was quoted in the National Post as saying the Wildrose weren't ready for prime-time to govern. A chunk of weary PCs felt that too and decided at the last minute they couldn't abandon ol' faithful.

    PCs will eventually die out and there WILL be a push to rid it of that dreadful "progressive" prefix and a new Conservative party will form in the next 10 years or so.

    By Blogger hatrock, at 1:53 PM  

  • I agree that this was eerily like the 2004 federal election, one would think Tom Flanagan would have learned not too repeat his mistakes.

    The big difference between the two elections is that the 'no meet pay' committee is going to be largely forgotten about 4 years from now. Redford will change the committee system and there will be no Gomery like Inquiry hanging over her in 2016.

    She also has 4 years to return to a budget surplus and take that issue away from the opposition.

    It is going to suck for Liberals and NDP, but Redford has a good chance of being able to convince progressives to lend their votes as long as Wildrose are a legitimate threat and don't moderate themselves.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:56 PM  

  • Reaching back a little further into history, let's not forget that Peter Lougheed did not win his first election either. In fact he did considerably worse than Wildrose did last night, winning 26% of the vote and just 6 seats. Four years later, he won 46% of the vote and 49 seats. Four years after that, 69 of 75 seats. Four years after that, 74 of 79. And on and on.

    All this is by way of saying that while the Tories may have dodged a bullet for now, Wildrose is not going away and the real test will come in 2016.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:12 PM  

  • Do you think Redford can hold onto the leadership? Stelmach got the boot 2.5 years after increasing their pop vote and seat count. Redford has little caucus support as it is (and a few of them might be a bit choked at her treatment of Gary Marr). I think she's out and that the PC party is heading for big ole internal fight.

    By Blogger Rob, at 2:46 PM  

  • We need WILDROSE so desperately. I just don't understand how this happened when so many Albertains claimed that they wanted CHANGE??? What really happened?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:43 PM  

  • 308.com blocked this comment from me:


    “The Liberals […] completely over-achieved in Calgary.”

    The Liberals over-achieved? You make it sound like it was their fault. How about “the pollsters got it wrong.”

    Your prediction for Calgary Mountain View - WR:34, PC:27, Lib:24

    Apr 23 real numbers - Lib:41, PC:30, WR:22 (David Swann Liberal victory)

    Eric. Please own this. Learn from it. You obviously had no polling data specific to Calgary Mountain View. You were extrapolating from Calgary-wide polls – and many of those were Sun Media robo-call polls.

    If this was just some academic, ivory tower exercise I wouldn’t care. But a lot of pundits and journalists and bloggers were using your numbers. There was intense pressure to vote strategically in this riding based on your numbers. And you were pulling these numbers out of your back-side orifice.

    Swann should have got 50%, but the hysteria partially created by you drove lots of Liberals into the arms of the PCs. A lot of hard work by a lot of good people goes into a campaign and it is very, very concerning to watch that effort come to nothing simply because of – I’m too pissed to finish this without profanity.

    Going forward, can you at least put a huge disclaimer on your seat-by-seat projections that you have no data specific to each seat, that you are using a lot of very shaky assumptions to get your numbers.

    By Anonymous CrescentHeightsGuy, at 3:58 PM  

  • I'm not sure I'd expect Redford to govern as a centrist. It's pretty clear that the Wild Rose party is the main electoral threat to the PC's. That's why King was a "progressive in a hurry", and why Chretien slashed the deficit. Giving up turf to insurgent challenges is not how dynastic parties roll.

    The ~12% of the Alberta which saved the PC's at the last second were not centrists. They're the kind of centre-right fiscal conservatives that populate the Calgary suburbs and vote for the Federal Tories in droves. And they are Alison Redford's new BFFs.

    Additionally, the main threat to Redford is now internal. Her caucus contains most of the same conservative folks that were in the previous government. The membership of the Alberta PC party probably hasn't changed much either - strategic voters aren't going to take out memberships in the evil empire (at least not in the numbers needed to survive a leadership review).

    By Anonymous hosertohoosier, at 3:59 PM  

  • I thought I would share my two cents.

    In my opinion, this election has brought back the Lougheed era coalition. That original coalition was built up on a coalition of Liberals and Traditional PC voters. See change in the Liberal vote between 1963 and 1971.

    This coalition began to unravel after the resignation of Peter Lougheed. The eventual rise of the Decore Liberals.

    The PC coalition of Ralph Klein was really built up on a coalition of PC voters and former Social Credit Voters. This coalition really started coming together in 1986/1989 as way to reduce the influence of the left and solidified with the election Ralph Kelin in 1992.

    The way I see the Wild Rose Alliance is that the Wild Rose Alliance is simply a revival of the old Social Credit Party. As a result the Klein coalition is unravelling.

    If Alison plays her cards right she can solidify the new coalition and PCs can probably hold on for a while, if they can't then the Wild Rose will likely win the next election.

    As for the strength of the Wildrose, remember the Liberals were in a much stronger position in 1993 with almost 40 percent of the popular vote but they eventually lost that support. It is probably quite likely if Alison form a competent coalition the Wildrose numbers will decline below 30 percent but hold a good 26-30 percent.

    By Blogger Aman Hayer, at 4:01 PM  

  • I don't buy these comparisons to elections past. Wasn't this supposed to also be 1971 Lougheed vs. Strom, or so the media would have us believe.

    Paul Martin had a minority government after the 2004 election and the electorate had almost daily reminders of the Adscam scandal thanks to the Gomery inquiry.

    It's said that generals are always fighting the last war. So too, it seems, are political pundits.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:34 PM  

  • I'm not surprised 308 blocked that comment. How embarassing is to give a 20-62 seat range for the Wildrose Party and STILL miss the mark?

    No one should have been surprised that strong incumbents like David Swann won.

    By Anonymous Deb, at 5:50 PM  

  • Rob - my gut tells me all the discontents have jumped to the Wildrose, so Redford is probably safe. The expectations game being what it is, this is being spin as a massive win.

    Of course, if Redford finds herself 15 points behind Smith in the polls two years from now, the PCs have never been shy about bringing out the knives...

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 5:52 PM  

  • H2H - Redford's biggest problem is that she's fighting a 2 flank war. Like you say, she still has many conservatives within the tent (though Morton and others lost their seats), but got elected thanks to Liberal voters. That's a lot of people to keep happy, and a fine line to walk.

    She might pull it off, but I could easily draft up a dozen scenarios where things fall appart for Redford.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 5:55 PM  

  • Anon2:12 - Good point re: Lougheed's first election. I was trying to work it into my post, but figured that might clutter things more.

    If Smith grows into her role, she'll be an even more dangerous adversary for the Tories in 4 years. It's important to remember this was her first election as leader and she has never held office before.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 5:57 PM  

  • the thing is that the liberals are sinking everywhere in canada, no exceptions. so it's totally possible that the move for this election is quasi-permanent, with the ndp taking up a little slack here and there, but mostly the liberals just folding into the pc and the elections being fought something like they are in ontario.

    By Anonymous david m, at 6:03 PM  

  • Another way to look at this through a lens of policy rather than party brand. You could just as easily argue that Smith was the Kim Campbell/Paul Martin figure (pushing the same old reform/conservative policies that have been shown not to work) and Redford the Chretien/Harper new breeze. You may find that the right wing in Alberta politics isn't as strong as everyone assumes and is shrinking fast especially in Calgary. Look for a federal breakthrough next by either the NDP or Liberals led by Nenshi.

    By Anonymous Andrew MacPherson, at 7:55 PM  

  • All parties seem to be in a tough situation. Redford's difficulties are mentioned often, but what of Smith's coalition of Libertarians and Social Conservatives? If the good Pastors are thrown under the bus for the failure to live up to expectations and the party moves away from what Smith is already calling controversial policies (conscience rights, climate change) will the SoCons stay with her? Harper may have been able to gag the "bozos" federally, but will Smith be able to do likewise in a smaller theatre like Alberta?

    By Anonymous hazzard, at 8:27 PM  

  • Alison is one, smart cookie.

    When push came to shove, she did what was needed to win - brought to light what she had in her back pocket all along, but waited until it was necessary to bring it out, and when it would be remembered at the ballot box - the beliefs of a few fanatical WRP candidates.

    Now she will get rid of the old Conservative guard and put like-minded folks into her Cabinet. She is going nowhere except to Ottawa when Harper loses.

    By Anonymous MississaugaPeter, at 11:27 PM  

  • Calgary Grit,

    You are a complete hypocrite in my mind. You have ads on your blog that have had pro-conservative messages. You are apparently a liberal. IT'S TIME YOU GET RID OF ALL ADVERTISEMENTS ON YOUR SITE! I would like to see the politics of usual end here. Right. Now.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:08 AM  

  • I think one of the big things that will emerge over the next 4 years is finally, after all this time, shoving the Alberta NDP, Liberals, and the upstarts in the Alberta Party together to work out a way forward - maybe not a full merger, but an electoral coalition of sorts. I think facing an increasingly progressive-in-appearance PC party will squeeze the left parties together to the point where they will have to merge just so that they'll be able to keep up the fight. It probably won't be pretty, and there will probably be a few holdouts next election, but a lot of Alberta Grits were talking about a merger with the Alberta Party before this election - it's likely going to happen now that stalwarts like MacDonald and Taft are out while pragmatists like Hehr and Swann are in...

    By Blogger BAJ Visser, at 8:22 AM  

  • A couple thoughts. First, Redford won a majority and doesn't have to fight a never-ending election or make a deal with the NDP before her shot in the polls 4, not 2, years from now.

    Second, what are Alberta Liberals thinking? Instead of sticking with the party - which seems that it could have done better than it did - they practically gave up. In contrast, the federal NDP kept pretending they could beat the Liberals until they convinced Canadians and even surprised themselves. Similarly, the BC Conservatives seem to have no fear of defeating an acceptable government and living with an NDP super majority for their principles. The Reform Party stuck to its guns and now they have a majority after a 13-year Liberal government that implemented their financial policies better than they ever could have. I think some Liberals need to learn from those examples.

    By Blogger Jason Cherniak, at 9:03 AM  

  • Anon - those are google ads, generated based on keywords and whatever else the nerds at google believe people on this site would be most interested in.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:02 AM  

  • Jason - I tend to agree. With the right wing vote split, this election was a real opportunity for progressives in Alberta.

    While they got Redford elected, had they stuck with the Libs and NDP (or set up a new party), this would have been a huge breakthrough election for the left.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:06 AM  

  • Here's what I find most interesting - Harper captured two thirds of all Alberta votes in the 2011 federal election.

    And now, only one year later, Danielle Smith manages only about half of that.

    Thus, the frankly inescapable conclusion is that there's a very large portion of the Alberta electorate - at least a quarter of it - that voted for Harper but didn't vote for Smith.

    How do you explain that, I wonder? Ideologically, there's not a major difference between the two. If anything, Smith is probably more socially liberal than Harper is (as she's a libertarian and Harper's more of a 'standard' conservative, for lack of a better term for it).


    I see at least two possible explanations:

    1. The power of incumbency. I think this might be underrate in Canada. If you look at a lot of recent provincial elections (also in Ontario and Quebec), incumbents tend to do better than forecasted. A lot of recent Canadian federal elections have been like this as well - the Liberals had more staying power in 2004 and 2006 than many suspected, and many didn't think that Harper could ever get his majority.

    I think that maybe Canadians simply tend to prefer "the devil they know" over a "risky" challenger, and this helps incumbents a lot.


    2. Alberta hates Liberals (big L) but actually has a largely Red Torey/Blue Liberal electorate. In other words, Harper sweeps up both Reformers and those Red Tories/Blue Liberals simply because a lot of Albertans can't stand the idea of voting "Liberal" (big L). They associate that party with the NEP and Eastern arrogance. In other words, its not Red Tory/Blue Liberal policies that bother the, it's the Liberal brand. If this is the case, maybe Mulcair and his NDP shouldn't be so quick to rule out Alberta.


    In any event, I find this very fascinating, and I'd like to know your take on this, CalgaryGrit. :)

    By Anonymous Ryan, at 7:47 PM  

  • Robert Vollman: If you look at the trends, and the confidence intervals, the election out come was within expected parameters.

    Uh, no. Not even close. The average difference of each pollster's final poll from the actual result for the four main parties was 19.8 percentage points. Even the most accurate one (Forum, April 22) was off by 14.

    By comparison, in last year's Ontario election, where the pollsters were also criticized for missing the mark, the most inaccurate pollster (Ipsos Reid) was only off by 10 points.

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 12:47 AM  

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