Monday, April 30, 2012

Did the left blow it in Alberta?

Even though the end result was a Stephen Harper majority government, the NDP took a giant leap forward last May. In one election, the party may very well have taken the first step in killing off Canada's natural governing party, positioning the Dippers to one day form government.

Although last Monday's Alberta election was a battle between two conservative parties, it’s not far flung to imagine how a similar scenario could have unfolded there.

Let's close our eyes and go back in time to the spring of 2008 - Leona Lewis topped the billboard charts, and Ed Stelmach had just stumbled his way to a crushing 70-seat majority. In our scenario, perhaps the Liberals and NDP finally decide that 50 years of fighting each other for second place has been counterproductive. They talk to some disaffected PCs and non-partisans and decide to start a new progressive party from scratch – let’s call it the “Alberta Party” for lack of a more creative name.

Since there’s general displeasure with Stelmach and no viable alternative on the right (remember, this is pre-Danielle), a few polls show this party is popular at the conceptual level. Maybe Dave Bronconnier finally has enough guts to jump to provincial politics. Or maybe the leadership goes to a little known Mount Royal professor by the name of Nenshi.

In either event, this new party is seen as credible by voters, setting up a real three-way election battle. Maybe the Alberta Party follows the federal NDP's path and winds up as the official opposition to a Wildrose government. Maybe we get Alberta's first minority government. Hell, maybe the PCs choose Gary Mar or Ted Morton as their leader, and all those “Redford Liberals” find a home in the new Alberta Party, sweeping them into power.

Yes, it’s all fantasy, but fantasyland is the only place the left ever comes close to power in Alberta so there's no harm in closing our eyes and imagining it.

Now, let’s try another scenario, grounded slightly more in reality – what would have happened had the “strategic voters” been less strategic? Could progressives have made a breakthrough on Monday night?

It’s important to remember that despite being the punchline of Canadian politics, the left in Alberta is not nonexistent. Since the Liberals' near-victory in 1993, the Liberals and NDP have combined for between 35% and 42% of the vote in each election, falling victim to the unforgiving nature of first past the post.

The Liberals' did not bled to the Wildrose Party this election, but to Allison Redford. The final Abacus poll showed around 10% of 2008 Liberal and NDP voters jumping to the Wildrose Party, but this is off-set by the 5% of past PC voters who planned to follow Raj Sherman to the grits. Toss in the departure of the Alberta Greens from the ballot, and it's not unreasonable to assume the Liberals and NDP could have held their 2008 vote, had things broken a little differently.

So what if they had?

To find out, I moved PC voters “back” to the Liberals, until the 2012 regional totals matched the 2008 numbers. As an example, to get the Liberals back to 33% in Calgary, I needed to shift 11% of the total vote from the PCs to the Liberals in each riding. I recognize this is an inexact science but, once again, this is perfectly legitimate math for fantasyland.

Here’s what that legislature would have looked like:

WR 42
PC 26
Lib 14

That may not be an overly appealing outcome, but it does leave the Liberals and NDP as players in a minority government. Moreover, if you shift to 2004 levels of support, suddenly we get 23 Liberal MLAs and 13 for the PCs, with the Wildrose holding a slim majority. That's a scenario similar to last May, and one that could eventually lead to the Liberals squeezing the PCs out of existence.

Again, we're playing with hypotheticals in the land of make believe, but it does show that the landscape isn't so completely barren for progressives that the only option left is assimilation by the PCs. Situations can change - even in Alberta.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Who saw it coming?

The answer to that question is "not very many of us".

More than 190 people entered the joint and CalgaryGrit Great Alberta Election Pool, but like nearly all the pollsters and pundits, most entries were far away from the actual results on election night. Just 15% predicted a PC majority, and only 2 people had them winning at least 60 seats. The wisdom of the masses proved more accurate when it came to the bonus questions, successfully calling the defeat of Ted Morton and the controversial Wildrose candidates, while predicting Heather Klimchuk's victory in the hotly contested Edmonton Glenora riding. The median prediction of the Alberta Party's best riding showing was spot on the mark at 17%.

Each entry received 87 points minus one point for each seat you are off per party, plus two points per correct bonus question (see the questions here).

The two overall winners Marie and Tom earned 87 points each and will be contacted via email (if we're unable to contact them, the next placing entrant will be contacted and offered the prize). Prussian Prince, who answered 9 of the 10 bonus questions correct, will also receive one of the prize packs generously donated by Robert Vollman (who himself placed a very respectable 14th).

Your top 10 are:

T1. Marie (87 points)
T1. Tom (87 points)
3. Alexis MacMillian (83 points)
T4. Blake Robert (81 points)
T4. Kyle Olsen (81 points)
6. Andrew F (75 points)
T7. Ryan (73 points)
T7. SaraEdmonton (73 points)
T9. Gwen May (71 points)
T9. Kristin Stolarz (71 points)

Thank you to everyone who entered the pool. Any entrant who is curious how they placed can ask in the comments section or send an e-mail to Rest assured, you likely did better than the contest organizers - I placed 114th, while Dave was 177th.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Margin of Error

I don't think I've ever followed an election where the polls were as horribly off the mark as they were in Alberta.

Last May, when the media jumped on the "pollsters blew it" bandwagon for not projecting a Tory majority, most companies were still within the margin of error on the final vote intent numbers. Even during the 2004 federal election, the case study in pollsters "missing" a late swing, there wasn't a poll the final week of the campaign that had the Liberals behind (even if seat projections did), and most only under-estimated Liberal support by 3-5 points.

But last night? This wasn't just a case of shanking a field goal "wide right", but booting it in the complete opposite direction of the goal posts. Here's how the final polls stacked up with the results.

As most have commented, Forum's Sunday afternoon poll picked up part of the late swing but, even then, to go from a 2-point Wildrose lead and 10-point PC win is under 24 hours is shocking. It wasn't just a case of last second "strategic voting", since most polls in the final week correctly pegged Liberal and NDP support levels.

So what went wrong? I can think of 6 possibilities:

1. The polls made little effort to screen out the 43% of Albertans who didn't bother to vote on election day. Just asking respondents if they were absolutely certain to vote would have been a good start, even if few followed through on those intentions. But there are other attitudes and demographics that can help predict intent (i.e. older people are more likely to vote), and because of a lack of transparency in how these questions were asked or weighted, we have no way of knowing what steps were taken to screen out unlikely voters.

2. Building on the above point, the Big Blue Machine may have had a superior get out the vote operation than the relatively new Wildrose Party. I suspect this is part of the reason the federal Conservatives have "over performed" the polls on election day in recent years. Still, the best GotV operation will only bump you up a few percentage points, and it's not like the Wildrose Party was short of former Tory organizers, money, or volunteers.

3. The PCs had better candidates and more incumbents. Even though local candidates rarely have a big impact on the results (see Quebec, 2011), it's possible Albertans "voted" for the party and leader they wanted when asked that question on the survey, then considered the local candidates when they saw the names on the ballot. Still, once again, I can't imagine this would translate to more than a point or two at the province-wide level.

4. With voters growing increasingly disengaged and disinterested in the political process, it's possible many simply made up their mind in the voting booth. Since most polls only asked vote intent, there was little analysis in terms of strength of support, or where undecideds and soft voters might break before election day.

5. The most popular theory is that there was a "late swing" back to the PCs. This is born out by the Sunday Forum poll but, even then, a 20-point swing in the margin over the course of 5 days, or a single day 12-point swing is almost unheard of in politics. I don't doubt there was a late shift, but from what I hear, the PC Party's internal numbers showed them in much better shape than any of the media polls, suggesting that Smith's lead was never as big as it was reported.

6. So how could all those polls have been wrong? Well, if you look at that table above, you'll notice that Leger was one of the closest to the final mark, despite leaving field a week prior to the vote, before any "swing back" to the PCs was fully felt. The pollsters who overshot Wildrose support the most all used robo-diallers and online panels.

Both of those methodologies have inherent problems. You often need to make 50 to 100 robo calls to find one sap willing to complete the survey. So we know the Wildrose Party was popular with shut-ins, but that's about it. Moreover, since robo calls can only ask 5 simple questions before respondents drop off, you rarely have the opportunity to collect enough demographic information to judge how representative the sample is.

You can get those demographics using online panels, but while a national panel will have hundreds of thousands of Canadians on it, you're fishing from a much smaller pool when you get down to the Alberta level. Companies who don't frequently conduct political polling in Alberta might not have a good understanding of the biases inherent to the panel they're using, opening up the risk of skewed results.

If you're looking for more background on some of the problems associated with robocalls and online polls, I'd suggest this excellent letter by Darrel Bricker and John Wright, or this article featuring blunt comments from Allan Greg and Andre Turcotte.

The blame doesn't rest solely on the polling companies. The fact is robocalls and online polls are cheap to produce, and that's all the media is willing to pay for. The internal Tory polls used live callers, and asked more demographic and attitudinal questions than just vote intent - this no doubt let them verify the validity of their sample, and provided direction on what levers could cause the public to swing back to the Tory fold. There's something to be said about the old "you get what you pay for" adage, and most newspapers simply don't have the budget to invest in getting the job done right.

We'll probably never know which of the above factors were actually in play. And hell, this being Alberta, it could just be part of the deal with the devil the Alberta PCs signed long ago that ensures PC victory after PC victory.

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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.

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.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Alberta Votes Live Blog

6 pm (mountain time!): The much anticipated downtown Toronto Alberta election night party is ready to roll: the Alberta flag has been proudly hung, the Big Rock beers have been opened, and I'm sportin' a Supportin' Morton button. Polls are still open for another two hours, but the room is already full with a dozen ex-Albertans - and two Ontarians curious to see who will be signing their next equalization cheque.

7:20 pm: Playing "Ted Morton is the man" and "sing a song for Jim" to get everyone pumped up. One guest - "ahhh, so that's how Ed Stelmach became Premier".

8:10 pm: In most Alberta elections, we'd be calling it right about now.

8:14 pm: Watching the Global TV live stream online - they have a CNN-style touch screen! Sadly, due to James Moore's budget cuts, CBC will be announcing results via abacus tonight.

8:42 pm: Current numbers have the PCs leading in 45, Wildrose leading in 22, NDP in 2, Liberals in 1. maybe this is the Dennis Coderre bounce.

8:50 pm:  PCs now lead 55-21. And that's the sound of pundits everywhere frantically re-writing their articles before deadline.

9:01 pm:And they call it for the PCs. Absolutely shocking. Tom Flanagan blows it in the bottom of the 9th again. Conversation at our Toronto election party:

"I thought this was supposed to be a close election"
"By Alberta standards, this IS a close election"

9:40 pm: Guess we need to give Alberta Liberals an assist on this one. The ALP vote is down 15-20 points from their usual levels, far and away the margin of victory.

10:37 pm: And the traditional chant goes up at PC headquarters: "40 more years! 40 more years!". That's it for tonight all - tomorrow, I'll try to make some sense of one of the most shocking election nights in a long time.

For those sick of blog posts on Alberta politics...

Bev Oda paid $16 for a glass of orange juice. In fairness, it was a really good glass of orange juice.


Alberta Votes Today

After the most only exciting election in nearly twenty years, Albertans head to the polls today, with the fate of the 41 year old Tory government hanging in the balance.

The polls all show Danielle Smith and her lovable band of bigots homophobes racists misfits up by between 7 and 10 points 2 and 10 points. It's hard to say what that translates to in terms of seats, but the mean prediction of the 150 entries in the Great Alberta Election pool is: WR 42, PC 37, NDP 4, Lib 3, AP 1. Despite the poll numbers, over a third of all pool respondents predict a PC victory, so someone's in for a surprise tonight - one way or the other.

I'll be watching the results as they roll in with a dozen ex-pat Albertans. There will be Big Rock and there will be live blogging - at least until I blow .05 .08 and have my laptop taken away.

Until then, here's a recap of the past four weeks:

Day 28: What to expect tomorrow
How I'd Vote
Day 26: Problem Solved
Election Pool
Dear Alberta PCs: Welcome to life as a Liberal
Day 25: "Fuck it, I'm voting PC"
Day 24: Sleeping arrangements at minority motel
There goes another $1,000 "good behaviour" bond
Day 23: Born this way
Day 22: Closing arguments
Day 20: Notes from Week 3
Day 19: The morning after [the debate]
Debate live blog
Day 18: Debate night in Edmonton
Day 17: Conservatives attack conservatives for being conservative
Day 15: Paging Stockwell Smith
Day 14: Party of One
Day 12: Who says a 40 year old government can't come up with new ideas?
Day 11: A wild wave sweeps across Alberta
Day 9: Ralphbucks returns
Day 8: Losing control of the agenda
Day 5: This time when we say "it's time", it's actually time
Day 4: Danielle Smith comes out as the anti-change candidate
Day 3: Time to bring back Ed?
Day 2: Polls and prostitutes
Alberta Votes Preview
Redford in Dire Straits over "Money for Nothing" controversy

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Alberta Votes Day 28: What to expect tomorrow

I've already written about the difficulties of using seat projection models due to the unique circumstances of this Alberta election. So rather than crunch the numbers, I thought it might prove more useful to conduct a "wisdom of the masses" exercise, by looking at the predictions being made in  the Great Alberta Election pool. Here's what the nearly 100 politicos who have entered so far are expecting tomorrow:

Seat Totals

The above graph shows the median prediction for each party, with the bars representing the first-to-third quartile range - that is, where the "middle half" of all entries fall. Looking strictly at the means, we get a "best guess" of 42 Wildrose seats, 37 PC seats, 4 NDP seats, 3 Liberal seats, and 1 for the Alberta Party. That's a slightly narrower gap than my prediction of WR 44, PC 35, NDP 4, Lib 4, AP 0 - and it suggests there's some skepticism out there about Smith's ability to seal the deal. After all, three-in-ten respondents still predict a PC victory and only a minority (41%) expect Smith to win a majority.

Races to Watch

Nine-in-ten expect Redford to hold her seat, but respondents are less certain about Raj Sherman (43%) and Ted Morton's (19%) chances. It's a little counter intuitive for Morton to get drowned in the Wildrose wave given he'd be right at home in the party, but I have a hard time seeing any PCs left standing in southern rural Alberta.

As for the Wildrose Party's more colourful candidates, only 36% expect Allan Hunsperger (of "gays burn in hell" fame) or Ron Leech (of "being white is an advantage" fame) to be elected Monday. I'd be shocked if Hunsperger won, but Leech took 26% of the vote running as an independent last election - add in the Wildrose boost, and he seems like the odds on favourite to find his way to Edmonton, perhaps as Danielle Smith's Multiculturalism Minister*.

Edmonton Glenora figures to be one of the most hotly contested seats - the PCs beat the Liberals by 100 votes last time, but both the NDP and Alberta Party are running strong candidates and have targeted the riding. And with the Wildrose's Edmonton poll numbers, even they could pull it out on the vote split. This unpredictability is born out in the pool, where 56% expect the PCs to hold the riding, 21% (myself included) see it as an NDP pick-up, 11% pick the Alberta Party, 10% pick the Liberals, and 2% pick the Wildrose.

The Alberta Party

This being their first election, it's difficult to know what to expect from the Alberta Party. Only one-in-three predict they'll win a seat, and the mean guess on their best riding vote is 15-20%. That's the most I'd expect them to get anywhere, but many pool entries had them winning multiple seats, and up to 40 or 50 percent of the vote in some ridings. 

The Senate

The Wildrose Party is predicted to pick up 1.7 of the 3 Senate seats. Personally, I expect a clean sweep - given the low level attention paid to the Senate election, I expect most will vote party lines.

The Morning After

Close to half (44%) expect Liberal leader Raj Sherman to announce his resignation within 48 hours of the vote - perhaps not surprising since most expect Sherman to lose his seat and just 18% think the Liberals will win more votes than the NDP.

One-in-three expect Redford to resign after the election - presumably not the same people voting for her as "the most progressive option". Personally, I'd be surprised if any of the four opposition leaders are around come next election - hell, I'd be surprised if all four opposition parties still exist come the next election. But my best guess is that they'll all take a bit of time before coming to a decision...or being forced into one.

*That's obviously a joke. We all know Danielle Smith won't name a Multiculturalism Minister.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

How I'd Vote

Far be it for me to tell anyone in Alberta how to vote. I don't live in the province anymore, and my biases are right there for you to see in this website url. I'm a Liberal, and voting Liberal is almost a reflex by this point.

At the same time, I fully expect my old riding to be a hotly contested PC-Wildrose showdown at the Southcentre Mall. If the Wildrose Party has a list of targeted ridings, I suspect mine is somewhere between 40th to 50th on the list, so it could very well be the one that swings the balance or gives Danielle Smith her majority. Liberals are pragmatic creatures by nature, so I can't ignore the wild elephant in the room.

If the vote had been held a month ago, this post might actually have ended up sounding like a quasi-Wildrose endorsement. For reasons I'll get to shortly, Alberta desperately needs a change of government, and I viewed the Wildrosers as nothing more than a slightly less experienced and slightly less corrupt version of the PCs. So why not?After all, Danielle Smith is a very impressive politician - the "Alberta Sarah Palin" meme is completely unfair to this woman who is articulate, thoughtful, and intelligent.

However, any secret longing for a Wildrose victory has quickly dissipated over the course of this campaign. Rather than presenting a creative long term plan for Alberta, Smith has attacked Redford for not loving Alberta, resorted to vote-buying gimmicks, and abandoned the notion of even pretending her math ads up. More troubling is her refusal to repudiate overtly homophobic and racist comments from her candidates. That says all I need to know about Danielle Smith's values and her ability to represent all Albertans.

So I guess that means I'm in the "Liberals for Redford" camp, eh? I will say that Alison Redford is likely the closest thing to a Liberal Premier Alberta will ever get, but that's simply not enough. While we've all been quick to criticize the words of Smith's candidates, the actions of the PCs have been equally unsettling. As Paula Simmons brilliantly recounted this week, the PCs legislated against gay marriage and spent a decade refusing to add protection for gay Albertans to Alberta’s human rights legislation, despite a Supreme Court of Canada ruling requiring them to do so. They quietly supported Ted Morton's private members bill on conscience rights, and loudly passed Bill 44 which "protected" children from ever having to hear about homosexuality in school.

Of course, the argument you hear is that was the past and this is not your father's PC Party. Even though Alison Redford was Justice Minister when Bill 44 came into law, she is rightly seen as being "red" in more than just name. The thing is, if we're going to judge Danielle Smith by the company she keeps, surely we need to apply the same rule to Redford. Ted Morton is on record supporting pretty much everything Redford has accused the Wildrose of secretly plotting, and he's not just some fringe candidate, but is Redford's Minister of Energy. Despite attacking Danielle Smith for leading a party of "old white men", Redford's Cabinet is 85% male and 95% white.

The PCs have been drifting aimlessly for years, spending more than any other government in Canada without any semblance of a long term plan. Given Alberta's wealth, there's no reason the province shouldn't have the best hospitals, schools, and infrastructure in the world. Instead, we have high tuition rates, long wait times, an inquiry into the Health Care system, and accusations of doctor bullying. By Redford's own admission, Ralph Klein's cuts hurt Albertans and created a massive infrastructure backlog.

Sure, much of this is ancient history, but if you can't judge a 41 year old government on its record, what can you judge them on?

Ever since Redford's surprise ascension to the throne, the PCs have looked every bit like an arrogant empire, just waiting to get swept aside. In February, they were worried they'd win too many seats. We've already seen broken promises from Redford on a judicial Health Care inquiry and campaign donor disclosure. This lack of transparency shouldn't be surprising, given an access to information study recently ranked Alberta the least transparent province in Canada, and placed it behind beacons of democracy Niger and Angola internationally.

Then there's the saga of the money for nothing committee. When it surfaced that MLAs were receiving $1,000 a month to sit on a committee which hadn't met in 4 years, Redford accused opposition members who returned the cash of "grandstanding"...then ordered PC MLAs to return 12% of their pay after a poll showed the public up in arms. One week into the election campaign, she finally ordered them to pay back the full amount, though there's no indication they will. The incident shouldn't instill voters with confidence the PCs have turned over a new leaf.

I'd be willing to look beyond all this if the PCs had offered a compelling plan in their budget or platform, but those documents ran away from doing anything even remotely bold - and why would they, when PC strategists were musing about winning 70+ seats a few months ago? The best argument for voting PC this campaign has been that "the Wildrose Party is worse", but when the Wildrose Party is nothing more than a collection of disgruntled Progressive Conservatives, that's not enough for me.

So if I had a vote, it would be going to the Liberals - not out of a sense of loyalty, but because they're the only party with a "think big" platform. They offer a compelling democratic reform platform, and have used something more than wishful thinking to fund their more expensive promises, such as free tuition and Health Care investments.

That said, Brian Mason strikes me as a genuine and principled politician, so if orange is your flavour, I wouldn't spend a lot of time trying to change your mind. Even the upstart Alberta Party strikes the right tone, and it's possible that movement will eventually morph into a credible progressive alternative to the Wildrose and PC parties.

In any event, there are plenty of options, so there's no excuse for another 41% turnout rate. This Monday, be sure to get out and vote.


Alberta Votes Day 26: Problem Solved

A blast from the past. Graham Thompson's February 14th article for your reading enjoyment:

Do Tories a favour: Vote against them

Alberta Conservatives are beginning to worry about the number of seats they'll win in the upcoming provincial election.

Not because they'll get too few, but because they'll get too many.

If recent public opinion polls prove prescient, the Alberta Conservatives could win somewhere between 70 and 80 seats - that's out of 87 seats total. One poll even suggests they could win 82 seats, the most for any government in Alberta history.

After the election, there could be so many Conservative MLAs they'll need a double-decker bus to take them to their next caucus retreat at the Jasper Park Lodge.

Tories of course want to win as many seats as possible but there is a pragmatic downside to a huge majority that is causing some government officials to worry. They won't know what to do with so many MLAs. Really.

About 20 will become cabinet ministers and maybe half a dozen could become parliamentary secretaries. One will become legislative Speaker and others will be appointed to various executive committees. But there could be several dozen with no real work to do other than getting themselves into trouble. In politics, idle backbenchers are the devil's playthings.

Then there's the logistical problem of dealing with seven dozen outsized egos, many of them bruised after being shut out of cabinet.

I am not being facetious. When you talk to Conservative government officials about a gigantic electoral victory for the Conservatives, they roll their eyes and shake their heads and mutter about the headache of herding so many cats. They are not being facetious, either. They want a huge victory but they also see the cloud in this silver lining.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Alberta Election Pool

On Monday, Albertans will go to the polls in what is already being dubbed a "historic" election. The outcome is uncertain, so why not gaze into your crystal ball and enter the Daveberta and CalgaryGrit election pool.

It's simple enough - predict the seat totals for each party and answer 10 bonus questions. Everyone gets 87 points minus one point for each seat you're off per party, plus two points per correct bonus question.

Robert Vollman has generously donated the following political book prize packs (shipping extra, unless we can arrange a pick-up in Calgary or Toronto):

1. The Bill of Rights package: One Canada (Diefenbaker), Memoirs (Trudeau)
2. The Preston Manning package: Thinking Big, The New Canada and Roots of Reform
3. The Jean Chretien package: The Friendly Dictatorship, Straight From the Heart
4. The Federalists package: A Nation Too Good to Lose (Joe Clark), Fighting for Canada (Diane Francis)
5. The Obscure Package: The Betrayal of Canada (Mel Hurtig), Navigating a New World (Lloyd Axworthy)

First choice goes to the overall winner, with the winners of the seat prediction portion and the bonus question portion also winning a book pack. So even if you're an Ontarian like myself with no clue what a "Ted Morton" is, never mind if he'll win his seat, you can skip the bonus questions and still be eligible for the prizes, based on a shot-in-dark seat prediction.

Contest will close as soon as the polls open Monday. Please paste your entry in the comments here or at daveberta, or e-mail your picks in to

Election Results Questions

Number of MLAs elected by each party (total: 87 MLAs)

Alberta Party:

Bonus Question

1. The constituency where the PC candidate will earn their highest percentage of the popular vote:
(2008 results here; candidate list here; top ridings last time: Vermilion-Lloydminster (Lloyd Snelgrove - not running), Battle River-Wainwright (Doug Griffiths), Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville (Ed Stelmach - not running), Bonnyville-Cold Lake (Genia Leskiw), Strathmore-Brooks (Arno Doerksen), Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills (Ray Danyluk))

2. Will PC MLA Ted Morton be re-elected in Chestermere-Rockyview?
(Morton won with 57% of the vote last time, but projects 22-point Wildrose win)

3. Will Premier Alison Redford be re-elected in Calgary-Elbow?
(Redford beat the Liberals by 3% last election, and projects her to beat the Wildrose by 3%)

4. Will Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman be re-elected in Edmonton-Meadowlark?
(As a PC, Sherman defeated the Liberals 54% to 30% in 2008)

5. What will the highest vote percentage for the Alberta Party be in a riding? (points if you're within +/- 5%)
(Polls show them under 5% province-wide, but they've targeted a pair of Edmonton constituencies, including the one in Q7)

6. Will either Allan Hunsperger ("gays burn in hell") or Ron Leech ("being white is an advantage") win their seat?
( projects Hunsberger to lose, but has Leech in a virtual dead heat)

7. Who will be elected in Edmonton-Glenora?
(Candidates: Sue Huff AP, Bruce Miller Lib, Ray Martin NDP, Heather Klimchuk PC, Don Koziak WR; 2008 vote: PC 40%, Lib 39%, NDP 15%, WR 2%)

8. Which party leaders will announce plans to resign within 48 hours of the vote?
(Alison Redford PC, Danielle Smith WR, Raj Sherman Lib, Brian Mason NDP, Glenn Taylor AP)

9. How many of the 3 senate positions will the Wildrose Party win?
(They're running 3 candidates, the PCs are running 3 candidates, the Greens have 1 candidate, and there are 6 independents; full list here)

10. Who will get more votes - Libs or NDP?
(current polls have them effectively tied)

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Dear Alberta PCs: Welcome to life as a Liberal

Dear Progressive Conservatives,

First off, congrats on the 40 years in power. It was a good run and, speaking on behalf of the Alberta Liberal Party, I'd like to think we played a small role in making it possible.

But the latest polls show Danielle Smith and her band of lovable homophobes poised for power - some polls even have PC support dipping below 30%, into "Liberal territory". It looks like the party's over, and if Alberta's history is any indication, once you lose power, you never get it back.

So as someone who spent many years fighting for the Alberta Liberal Party, I thought I'd offer a few tips to help facilitate your transition to irrelevance.

1. Blame the Media: I can't tell you how many times I've heard Liberals complain that "we would have won, if only the media had covered our education platform". Yes, it's not in any way productive to trash the media, but it's something you can bond over with other activists, and it's healthier than blaming voters.

You've already got a good start on this - I've seen lots of tweets from PC members complaining about Danielle Smith's free ride this campaign. One Facebook post dismissed a ThinkHQ poll as "Wildrose propaganda", even though the company is run by Dave Bronconnier's former chief of staff.

2. Blame the electoral map: Repeat after me - "why does rural Alberta get so many seats?". Seriously, whose idea was that?

3. Forget the Past: I know there will be a temptation to look back longingly at the glory years. Maybe you'll even try to convince a nephew of Ed Stelmach's to run for leader one day, to try to reclaim the magic of the 70-seat Stelmachian era. But I've told enough Alexander Rutherford stories on the door steps to know voters don't give a damn about the past.

4. Accept the Messiah: Back in 2001, a drunk Ralph Klein berated the homeless in Calgary, and the voters shrugged. He threw a book at a 12 year old girl, berated AISH recipients, got busted plagiarizing an essay, and told ranchers to "shoot, shovel, and shut up" next time they saw a case of mad cow disease - each time, voters shrugged. It used to drive me crazy, but after a decade, I came to accept it.

The sooner you accept that Danielle Smith is infallible, the less likely you'll be to develop high blood pressure.

5. Learn to Love Opposition: Rejoice! The days of having to defend no-meet committees, controversial appointments, and spending boondoggles are over. I know you found it awkward explaining why Ron Stevens billed taxpayers for a 3-day "stopover" in Hawaii, as part of his fact finding trip to Australia to "study" their gambling system. Luckily, the days of PCs doing anything on the government dime are gone.

Yes, there will still be MLAs to embarrass you. But the good news is there will be far, far fewer of them.

On the other side, it's a lot more fun to criticize than to be criticized. You don't think vegans in the Annex don't secretly love complaining about Rob Ford? Righteous indignation is a drink that can make you forget about landslide election defeats, and given Danielle's Smith platform and caucus, she will be serving you up the ingredients for this drink every day.

6. Become an Idealist: I know a lot of PC members are only members because the PCs are in power. They won't be members for long.

Once they're gone, you'll have the freedom to advocate for policies you believe in. You think the Alberta Liberals are proposing carbon taxes and tax hikes to get elected? Of course not. Trust me - you'll feel a lot better having the door slammed in your face when you say something you believe in, than having the door slammed in your face because of a scandal involving an idiot Cabinet Minister you've never met.

7. Embrace the Novelty: It will take a few years, but before long you'll find yourself at a party in Ontario and someone will exclaim "boy, a PC supporter in Alberta - that must be tough!". I know you'll be tempted to argue or educate them - "actually, we won 8 seats last election and were in power back in 2011". But don't do it! Take it from me, no one cares that the Liberals hold seats in Calgary or that the party routinely gets 25% of the vote.

Instead, play up the stereotype - talk about the 3 person riding association meetings, or the time the 90 year old grandma in rural Alberta chased you off her porch hurling f-bombs your way. It's what your audience wants to hear. Call yourself an "endangered species" and claim you joined the PCs as "an act of youthful rebellion" - you'll be the hit of every party.

Heck, even a benign blog title like "Calgary PC" will be eye catching and mysterious before long.

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Alberta Votes Day 25: "Fuck it, I'm voting PC"

When you know the PCs are going to take 70% of the vote in your riding and 80% of the seats in the province, there's not a lot of strategy involved in your vote. You vote your conscience, knowing there is no way your check mark could possibly make a difference. It's no surprise the majority of Albertans didn't bother voting in 2008.

This time, the Alberta election is all about strategic voting, which is why longtime Liberals like Warren Kinsella have done the previously unthinkable and saddled up with the PCs.

The strongest pitch to date for a strategic PC vote comes from this ad, produced by Calgary filmmaker Aviva Zimmerman:

It's a slick ad and should be effective with its target demo (young, urban progressives), though that target demo tends to live in ridings the Wildrose has little chance of winning. It also says a lot about the state of the PC dynasty that their most compelling pitch to voters at this point is (and I quote): "I would rather have my face eaten off by rodents - but I'm voting for them".

The Alberta Liberals stand to lose the most from strategic voting, and they've aggressively countered with a pitch of their own:

'When Sherman contemplated a Wildrose government being questioned by a PC opposition in the legislature, he was worthy of a standup routine, whether you agree with his position or not.

“Why would you have a very right-wing government and a corrupt right-wing party that caused all the problems as your opposition?” he asked rhetorically.

“What are they going to question? What are they going to complain about? ‘Excuse me, you didn’t privatize enough, or you privatized too much, or too fast. Or excuse me ... you didn’t neglect those seniors enough.’ It would be an absolute joke.”'

They've also launched a hugely entertaining "Wildrose or Tory" online quiz, to make the point that the "more progressive" option isn't really any more progressive.

The impact of this strategic voting campaign remains to be seen. I remember an analysis of the 2004 federal election showed that Harper benefited from the "Stop Harper" movement because NDP supporters voted "strategically" in many NDP-CPC swing seats. The same thing could very well happen in Calgary or Edmonton this time out. But regardless of the result, this marks the first time in a long time its been worth Albertans' time to give serious thought to their vote.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Alberta Votes Day 24: Sleeping Arrangements at Minority Motel

Above: Preview of post-election Cabinet meetings?

Despite a lackluster debate performance by Alison Redford, a pair of post-debate polls show the Wildrose margin down to 7 points. With daily controversies dogging Danielle Smith, there's no guarantee that lead will hold and, even if it does, it's impossible to accurately project what the next legislature will look like.

The first problem with any seat projection is that all polls split Alberta into three regions for reporting purposes - Calgary, Edmonton, and rural Alberta. While that's the most logical cut, just as downtown Calgary and suburban Calgary are two very different entities, lumping Red Deer and Peace River into the "rural Alberta" umbrella masks regional trends.

Moreover, the regional sample sizes in these polls are small, carrying large margins of error. It's not at all surprising to see the PCs up by 4 in Calgary Monday morning, but trailing by 14 come dinner time. Yes, it's possible a Wildrose chinook rolled across the city, but it's more likely we're dealing with the effects of small sample sizes and varying methodologies.

But even if we're lucky enough to get completely accurate polls, extrapolating out seat totals is a fool's errand. Seat projections in the last few federal elections have generally worked well, because we've had a good baseline to work with. If the Liberal vote is down 5 points in Ontario from 2008 to 2011, it's not hard to do the math for each riding. However, the Wildrose Alliance was little more than a protest party last time Albertans went to the polls, so it's counter productive to calculate their 2012 support using their 2008 vote. When a party rises from nothingness, it's extremely difficult to predict vote patterns - there's a reason seat projections showed the NDP winning anywhere from 20 to 70 seats in Quebec last spring, and a reason projects a Wildrose seat range of between 27 and 74 seats.

Toss in wild 4-way splits in Edmonton, incumbency effects, riding redistricting, and a map skewed to favour rural Alberta, and we're dealing with Alberta's most unpredictable election in a long time.

So the bottom line is we don't know what the next legislature will look like, but if the vote stays close, Alberta's first ever minority government is a distinct posibility. So what happens then?

The first thing to consider is the likelihood of defections. A floor crossing epidemic has spread across Alberta in recent years, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a handful of Progressive Conservatives take a step to the right after the election. Few PC MLAs supported Redford when she ran for leader, and she hasn't exactly endeared herself to them over the past month. Many in her caucus share the same Wildrose positions Redford spent the campaign ridiculing, and the prospect of an NDP-supported Redford budget might be too much for them to bear.

Hell, if Smith is only a handful of seats shy of a majority, expect an exodus. PC MLAs have never sat on the opposition benches, and many chose their party colours merely because they saw the PCs as the only avenue to power. It's not like Danielle Smith has her hands full of "Cabinet material" candidates to choose from, so she wouldn't hesitate for a second to offer Cabinet posts to entice one or two Tories across the floor.

But let's assume for a moment that Redford holds the PC ship together - maybe the PCs even find themselves ahead of the Wildrosers. The focus then shifts to the Liberals and NDP, who will likely win 4 to 10 seats between them. The Saskatchewan Liberals found themselves in a similar situation in 1996, and their decision to take Cabinet posts in an NDP government eventually led to the demise of that party. So it was somewhat curious when Liberal leader Raj Sherman began the negotiation process during an online debate yesterday, by asking Smith and Redford if they'd name him Minister of Health.

While I don't think the good doctor will get his wish, nearly everyone I've talked to assumes the PCs would cut some kind of deal with what's left of the left - even if they win fewer seats than the Wildrosers. But I'm not convinced.

The Liberals and NDP have spent decades waiting for the PC empire to crumble and if Smith offers them a deal - say some democratic reform measures and a hold on the more objectionable parts of Wildrose platform - I wouldn't be shocked to see an unholly alliance. After all, seeing the Wildrose Party in power would surely plunge the PCs into infighting and a leadership race.

For the Wildrose Party, the benefits of a deal with the left are obvious - the aforementioned PC chaos, and a chance to govern "non-scarily" thanks to the calming influence of the Liberals and NDP (think Stephen Harper from 2006 to 2011). Keep in mind, Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan has gone on record as stating he saw nothing wrong with Harper's threat to cut a deal with the separatists and socialists in 2004, after winning fewer seats than Paul Martin. Smith sounded like she was laying the groundwork for this type of arrangement during the leaders debate, when she went out of her way to compliment Raj Sherman and talked about how she's been able to work with the NDP in the legislature.

As strange as it may sound, life may soon be imitating the scenes from a satirical 2010 press gallery video, featuring Brian Mason barking orders ("left, left, left") at Danielle Smith and a Wildrose caucus decked out in orange NDP shirts. Hell, the video even features a cameo from then-independent MLA Raj Sherman.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

There goes another $1,000 "good behaviour" bond

Wildrose candidate Ron Leech sees "being white" as his biggest advantage in this election. Personally, I think his biggest advantage is having a leader who doesn't seem to care that he sees "being white" as his biggest advantage in this election. Because any other leader would have punted him from the ticket within minutes of saying this.

Wildrose party leader Danielle Smith, who had to defend one of her candidates on Monday for posting anti-gay views online, came to Leech's defence Tuesday, saying his comments are not cause for concern.

"I think that every candidate puts forward their best argument for why they should be the person who can best represent the community," Smith said at a campaign event.

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Worthy of Celebration

April 17, 2012: Constitutional ‘divisions’ keep Harper from celebrating Charter

January 23, 2011: Harper celebrates five years as PM

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Alberta Votes Day 23: Born this Way

Above: Surely Allan Hunsperger sees the slippery slope this picture represents

I think it's safe to assume Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger's $1,000 "good conduct bond" is as good as gone:

Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger wrote about his views on homosexuality on his blog in 2011. Hunsperger, a minister with The House church in Tofield, suggested if gays and lesbians continue to choose their sexual orientation they will suffer in the afterlife: “You will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell.”

Hunsperger suggested that for their own sake, gays and lesbians must be made aware of the imperative to change, and not simply accept who they are, as singer Lady Gaga suggests they do. “Accepting people the way they are is cruel and not loving!”

It's not uncommon for crackpots to make it past candidate vetting in all parties. In recent elections, we've seen "progressive" candidates dropped for everything from white supremacist writings to unwelcome bouts of nudity.

I think most voters accept this and, in a leader-driven political climate, these incidents rarely shift votes outside of the riding in question. The difference this time is that Danielle Smith has stood by her man, refusing to drop him as a candidate - or even to condemn what he said. The Hunsperger saga therefore isn't about the quality of the Wildrose team, but about the values of the Wildrose leader.

It's all very nice for Danielle Smith to tweet about how she will "represent all Albertans regardless of their race, religion, gender, politics or sexual orientation" and that "rights are rights are rights". But surely she can see how "representing all Albertans" doesn't include promoting the notion that certain Albertans will "burn in the fires of hell" due to a lifestyle "choice".

Because that's what Smith is doing. In our system, if you want to run for office with a party logo next to your name, that party must approve you as a candidate. Leaders not only give this approval, they promote local candidates by linking to their websites, speaking on their behalf, and offering financial support. They do this because they believe these candidates share their party's values. No one expects the leader to agree with every candidate on every issue, but at the very least Smith's support for Hunsperger shows she doesn't view his position as reprehensible - which it is.

Smith will do doubt continue to smile and say she's pro-choice and pro-same sex marriage, and that she won't legislate on social issues. I believe her. But politics is also about values, and Smith's defense of Hunsperger tells us more about her values than anything she has said this campaign.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Alberta Votes Day 22: Closing Arguments

With a week to go, the parties in Alberta must now try to seal the deal with voters. You'll hear pithy one-liners as spin machines go into overdrive, but here's the brutally honest closing pitch I'd use for each party:

Alison Redford's PCs: "I get that a lot of Albertans want to send us a message. I'm here to tell you that message has been received loud and clear. If you trust the Progressive Conservatives with another term, you'll see a new attitude.

As tempting as it is to vote Wildrose, please take a minute to think about what a Wildrose government would look like. They'd have an inexperienced Finance Minister at a time when there's economic uncertainty around the world. They've talked about changing the laws on abortion and privatizing Health Care. They've made promises they can only afford to keep through Health Care cuts.

On the 23rd, vote for a party you can trust. Vote PC."

Danielle Smith's Wildrose Party: "Like bedsheets, governments need to be changed every now and again. The PCs have given Alberta good government for much of the past 40 years - hell, I've voted for them a few times. But the party now reeks of complacency and corruption - it's time for a change.

As Premier, I wouldn't change everything, but there are a few things I would change. I'd bring in a balanced budget bill and cancel the 30% pay raise Alison Redford gave herself. I'd clean up government and end the "money for nothing" committee. I'd offer tax cuts to help families pay their bills and make ends meet.

On the 23rd, it's time for some clean sheets. Vote Wildrose."

Raj Sherman's Liberals: "The PCs are a corrupt and tired government, who deserve to be defeated. And judging from the polls, that's exactly what's going to happen. The question isn't who will form government, it's who you want fighting for you on the opposition benches.

You can vote for a PC opposition that doesn't believe in anything other than getting elected so they can pocket $1,000 a month to sit on a committee that never meets. The same PC party that might very well be in disarray, or led by Ted Morton by the end of the summer.

Or you can elect an Alberta Liberal Party who you know will fight for you in the legislature every day. As a former emergency room doctor, I entered politics to fix the Health Care system, and I quit the PC Party because I saw they were only making it worse. On the 23rd, vote for the only party that will stand up for you and will stand up for Health Care, vote Liberal."

Brian Mason's NDP: "The parties on the right have spent the election arguing over whose more conservative. Even the Liberals have joined this argument, by picking yet another former conservative MLA as their leader.

By spending all this time arguing over whose the biggest conservative, the other parties have lost sight of what matters to Albertans. Albertans want a good Health Care system, a clean environment, and an honest government. On these issues, the NDP has always been consistent. You know what we stand for, and you can count on us to fight for you. On the 23rd, vote your conscience - vote NDP."


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Alberta Votes Day 20: Notes From Week 3

On the Debate

Reaction from yours truly, Hatrock, Santos, Tougas, and Daveberta.

On Going Neg

1. A former Liberal MLA offers the PCs free advice on how to go neg, envisioning grainy and unflattering pictures of Smith with an ominous voice over warning "Danielle Smith wants to bring American-style health care to Alberta".

2. The master of going neg digs up some old Danielle Smith quotes on abortion and private Health Care.

3. The PC campaign complains about the floor crossers they lost over two years ago and Lyle Oberg.

On the Challenges of Going Neg

Danielle Smith reminds everyone she's pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. Which should remind us why the PCs have had a difficult time painting her as a right wing bogeyman.

On Advertising

Daveberta digs up one of the worst election ads I have ever seen:

And also this kind of cool one:

However, an ad exec once told me that if someone is branding themselves as "not your father's car", it's because they have reams of focus group data saying people see them as "your father's car".

Sing a Song for Glen

The Alberta Party has released a campaign song:

It's no "Ted Morton is the Man", but it's infinitely less annoying than "Sing a Song for Jim".

Speaking of "The Man", he has once again broken new ground, becoming the first candidate to ever post a topless photo of himself on his website bio:

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Alberta Votes Day 19: The Morning After

The hype machines were in overdrive for yesterday's Alberta Leaders Debate, but the outcome was similar to most debates: steady but unspectacular performances from all the candidates, with the end result nothing more than re-enforcing existing attitudes. The post-debate Ipsos poll bears that out; when asked who won, 37% opted for Smith, 28% for Redford, 13% for Sherman, and 10% for Mason - similar to the party support levels in most recent polls.

Given she's leading the polls 10 days before the vote, a messy draw was likely good enough for Danielle Smith. If you'd never heard of Danielle Smith before, you'd likely be impressed by her performance - but the woman has been more over hyped than Tim Tebow, and I find her less likable over 90 minutes than in photo ops and sound bytes. There was nothing Laytonesque in her performance, but she gets marks for avoiding the "inside baseball" stuff more than Redford, and framing issues in a way casual voters can understand and relate to.

Alison Redford found herself under attack all night long, even from one of the moderators, Vassy Kepelos, who asked Redford a triple-barrelled question that amounted to "how could anyone in their right mind trust you?". But Redford held her own against each attack, looking very much like a Premier. In most elections, that would be more than enough for the PC leader, but Redford needed to make Danielle Smith look scary, and there was nothing scary about the mostly cheerful Smith who talked about her ability to work with the NDP, and spun Danny Dollars as a way to help the poorest Albertans. Redford failed to land a good soundbyte on conscience rights, and wasted far too much time attacking Smith over trivial insider issues.

Considering Michael Ignatieff made absolutely no headway going after Harper on Carson, Contempt, and Corruption during last May's debate, I don't know what Redford hoped to accomplish by continuing to press Smith over two year old floor crossings. The details are murky enough that it's not a clear cut ethical breach, and even if it were, I can't imagine it would shift a single vote outside of the two ridings in question. With all the things Danielle Smith has written or said in her lifetime, and all the extremist positions her party holds, Redford's inability to land a punch was disappointing.

Raj Sherman was the least polished of the four leaders, and the delivery of his over rehearsed sound bytes was often clunky. Despite the poor style marks, he scored well on content, striking a nice balance between pointing out the conservative nature of the PCs and selling his own party's platform. As expected, he pivoted to Health Care whenever possible, but Sherman held his own on other issues. He did enough to stop the bleeding to the PCs, but I'm skeptical we was compelling enough to win back Redford Liberals.

Brian Mason was the most seasoned debater on stage and looked the most at ease. He played all the NDP greatest hits, promising "results for people" and telling anecdotes of his conversations with Albertans. The only thing missing was a story about him taking Andrea Horwath's son to the emergency room. I suspect a lot of Albertans liked the Brian Mason they saw last night, but I can't imagine he moved many votes. He was short on specifics, and his overall "pro-tax, anti-oilsands" message won't move him far beyond the NDP base.

So where do we go from here?

The debate was a missed opportunity for Redford, leaving her no option but to blanket the Alberta airwaves with anti-Wildrose attack ads. The PC dynasty may be on the way out, but it's going to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Alberta Debate Live Blog

6:35 pm: Fairly flat opening statements for all four leaders. Vision, future, prosperity, puppies, sunshine.

6:42 pm: Health Care starts with a very substantive discussion between Sherman and Redford, then Mason and Sherman tag team arguing the "two conservative parties" want to privatize Health Care.

6:48 pm: You know what this debate is missing? Gilles Duceppe.

6:51 pm: Raj Sherman uses the term "Fudgeit Budget" twice to describe Redford's budget. I don't think that's going to catch on.

6:52 pm: Brian Mason has crunched the numbers and believes Alison Redford's plan will bring in one billion more than she estimates, which is...bad?

And, no offense Brian, but I would have quoted someone with a little more credibility on economic forecasts than yourself. Like, say, an economist, or a Ouija board.

6:55 pm: Raj Sherman says "Alberta is not Alabama". True. It definitely isn't snowing in Alabama today.

7:05 pm: So the format calls for a question to each leader to kick off the debate. Redford got a tough question on Health Care, Sherman was asked about his plan to raise taxes, and Danielle Smith got the abortion question. Brian Mason's question: "that no meet committee is awful, eh?". Tough one.

7:32 pm: Redford goes after Smith on giving money to candidates who crossed the floor. Smith: "the chief electoral officer is too busy investigating PC corruption to look into this". Redford goes after Smith for her lack of experience. Smith: "You're right, I don't have experience. I don't have experience running deficits. I don't have experience intimidating doctors. I don't have experience giving myself a 30% pay hike".

7:52 pm: Danielle Smith hints about how she'd be able to work with the Liberals and NDP in a minority (coalition?) government. That comments probably inspired 30 newspaper columns and 2 sitcom pilots.

8:00 pm: I'll do a proper write up tomorrow morning, but my initial reaction is that Smith is winning the election but Redford spent more time than her on defense tonight. So I give it to Danielle, even though she wasn't quite as charming as she comes across in photo ops and sound bytes.


Alberta Votes Day 18: Debate Night in Edmonton

More often than not, the Alberta leader's debate is a mere formality, intended to create a vaneer of democracy in a province where elections tend to be meaningless. It's barely worth watching, because even if someone delivers the mythic "knock out punch", it doesn't affect the election outcome. Hell, had Ed Stelmach literally gone over to Kevin Taft and punched him in the face last debate, it wouldn't have changed much.

From 1997 to 2004, Ralph Klein's debate prep was never more intensive than taking a swig of whiskey before going on stage. In 2008, one of the debate questions was literally "how come none of you are charismatic?", to which Brian Mason gave a memorable - albeit unemotional - "my wife thinks I'm charismatic" rebuttal.

This time, it's different.

Alberta is in the midst of its first competitive election in 19 years, and tonight's debate could very well tip the scales. Three of the four leaders are rookies, and newspaper reporters routinely get Brian Mason's name wrong in stories, so it's not like he's a household name anywhere outside of the Mason household. For all intents and purposes, this will be the first and only chance for the leaders to make an impression.

Global will be airing the debate on the tube and online from 6:30 to 8 mountain time. If you're looking for a good time, the National Post offers a drinking game - for a simpler version, simply take a shot of Big Rock every time you hear the words "conscience rights", "41 years", or "money for nothing".

I'll be live blogging as long as I stay sober, and the following are what I'll be looking for from the party leaders:

She may never have run for an office higher than School Board Trustee, but Danielle Smith enters this debate as the favourite. She's photogenic, well spoken, and knows a thing or two about how to act in front of a TV camera.

Of course, most voters have likely gotten to know Smith through carefully orchestrated photo ops and sound bytes. Her challenge is therefore to remain likable for the full hour and a half. If she can accomplish that, the substance of the debate will be largely meaningless. So long as Smith doesn't look like the extremist Redford paints her out to be, the election is hers for the taking.

Alison Redford's gutsy debate performance 3 days before the PC leadership vote, in the wake of her mother's passing, likely won her that contest. It will take an equally impressive performance tonight for her to save the 41 year old PC dynasty (41 years - take a drink!).

Unlike Smith, who can win on style marks, Redford will need good content scores to take this one. And therein lies the problem. She must paint the Wildrose Party as extremists...for holding the same views as many in her caucus. She must woe Liberal and NDP voters worried about Smith, all the while reassuring conservatives she bleeds blue. She must present herself as an agent of change, yet make the case that Alberta can't afford the type of change the Wildrose Party is offering.

She will be forced to defend the PC record, but must brush off attacks over PC scandal. She will make the case for increased spending on health care and education, but will warn that Danielle Smith's numbers don't add up.

Redford is juggling a dozen balls in the air. If she pulls it off, she's going to impress a lot of people, but it's far more likely they'll all come crashing down on live TV.

Raj Sherman is likely the least polished of the four leaders, but he does project a certain amount of genuineness - especially when talking about Health Care. Expect Sherman to stay in his wheelhouse tonight, using Health Care to define himself (as a former ER doctor) and attack the PCs (over corruption and mismanagement). If you're placing bets, there's a 1 in 15 chance he'll show up to the debate wearing scrubs.

With Redford looking to her right, Sherman is unlikely to face the same "tax and spend" and "NEP" attacks as his predecessors. The challenge for this former Tory MLA lies in recapturing the Liberal base, as most polls have Liberal support cut in half from their 1997-2008 levels. With this in mind, he should not be afraid to rally progressives behind the Liberals' "tax the rich to pay for health and education" platform.

The risk he faces is that many Liberals may reluctantly back the evil empire, to stop the Wildrosers. For all intents and purposes, any attack on Smith tonight is a de facto attack on himself.

Brian Mason faces the least pressure of any leader, since the rise of the Wildrose does little to alter his message. He doesn't have the same balancing act as the other leaders, and can speak directly to his base of Edmontonians who get off on recycling.

Mason will therefore read from the traditional NDP "kitchen table" cookbook, arguing the other three parties are all the same. The over/under on the number of times he refers to Raj Sherman as "a former conservative" has been set at 4.5 for the night.

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