For me, Jason Kenney’s victory is something new and novel to Alberta. Think about it this way, from 1935 to 2008, Alberta had always had a variety of conservative parties. When Social Credit was in power, they had to fend off the Progressive Conservatives. For the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta had been around since the provinces’ founding in 1905 and it was the direct descendent of the previous governing party: Northwest Territories Liberal-Conservative Party. Consequently, when Peter Lougheed became Premier in 1971, he had to defeat other conservatives to become Premier of Alberta.
The same was true for most of Alberta’s Conservative Premiers. Lougheed – a conservative with a modernist, urban outlook – defeated another conservative: Social Credit Party Leader, Premier Strom. Getty would face off against the Representative Party, the Reform Movement, Social Credit and the Western Concept Party. Ralph Klein would have to make an argument while being told he was not conservative enough by the Alberta Alliance. Ed Stelmach would face the Alberta Wildrose Alliance. In each of those races, up to 10% of the vote would go to a party that was more rightward leaning than the governing Party. Yet, the Social Credit or the Progressive Conservative (PC) Governments would survive. Or put differently, without a merger successive conservative Premiers survived from 1935 to 2008.
This rule was even true, in 2012, when Premier Redford suffered her greatest challenge: the Wildrose Party. Now one could argue that the challenge might have been the leader, Danielle Smith, or the Wildrose Party itself; but what is clear is the result: two conservative parties took more than 70% of the vote. While, Premier Redford and her government survived with more than 40% of the vote. It was clear that if the PC and Wildrose Parties had fully merged then they would easily be able to run “rugshot” over any other political force in Alberta. Consequently, on April 16th, 2019, when I saw the results, I was surprised.
For, if Jason Kenney had truly merged the Wildrose and PC Parties, he should have easily taken more than 60% of the vote. For only seven years ago, Danielle Smith and Alison Redford had taken 78.25% of the vote. Surely, if Rachel had done such a bad job, nearly seven years later, Jason Kenney should have taken 60%, 65% or 70% of the vote? Yet, Jason Kenney was only able to win with the support of 54.8% of Albertans.
Or to put this number into context, Progressive Conservative Premier Stelmach won 52.7% of the vote in 2008. Ralph Klein contested four elections as leaders and won four times. He won with 44.3%, 51.17%, 61.9% and 46.8% of the electoral vote. Getty won one term as premier with 51% of the vote; while Lougheed won four terms: 46.4%, 62.7%, 57% and 62.3%. Most of these PC Premiers had to face challenges from the right and from the left and many of them did what Jason Kenney did today. The big difference is simple: Jason Kenney had no challenge on the right.
Consequently, I would argue something has changed. I would argue that Alberta has changed. While Jason Kenney has done his best to try to amalgamate the old PC and Wildrose Parties, I would argue that he has only managed to hold onto the most conservative elements of those parties. Or put differently, Jason Kenney has given up on the centre and this provides a two-sided opportunity.
The first side comes with those persuadable United Conservative Party (UCP) voters. If one looks at the Leger Poll, one can see a trend that everyone mentions: Jason Kenney holds back his his party; while flip side is true for Rachel Notley. Only 31% of Albertans think that Jason Kenney will make a good Premier, yet 50% of Albertans said that they would vote for the party he leads. I ask what leads to such a disparity. Is it that a lot of people held their nose and voted for the United Conservative Party? I vote in the affirmative and say that 2 in 5 2019 UCB voters may be persuadable.
For those who want proof, let me point to a federal example. At present, even amid the problems that each of the federal political leaders are having, all of them are much more popular that their parties. According to Angus Ried Institutes March 2019 Poll, 44% of Canada have a favourable view of CPC leader Andrew Scheer; while 37% of Canadians would support his party. The same is true with New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. This in many ways makes sense. However, for the opposite to be true – as in the case of Jason Kenney – one could say that a lot of trust is held in the team or the brand and not the leader. Consequently, when Jason Kenney’s government starts making decisions – as it happened with Stephen Harper, Rachel Notley or Justin Trudeau – those two in five UCP voters who voted for the party will have very little reason to stay. They didn’t like the leader to begin with – that would be strike one. Now, they didn’t like a new policy and consequently the party; that would be strike two and three. Accordingly, 2 in 5 2019 UCB voters may be persuadable.
The second side of the opportunity comes from the right ward swing of the UCP. Back in 2012, the PC and Wildrose collected 78.25% of the vote. The rest of the vote was collected by the NDP, Alberta Party, the Alberta Liberals and the Alberta Greens. That would be about 21%.
In 2019, the map is very different. According to Leger’s latest election poll (released April 15, 2019), the UCP received just over 55% of the vote; while NDP collected 32.2% of the vote. This meant that 22.92% of Albertans didn’t vote for the UCP or NDP and many of those we know are progressive in nature. While, election math is never a direct correlation, one can say that the 22.92% plus the 20% of persuadable UCP voters would lead to a bloc of voters which could be as small as 23% or one that could be as large as 43%. Given that the Notley formed a Majority Government with 40%, I would suggest a third party in Alberta is a project worth continuing. Or put differently, the 2012 and 2016 elections have shown us that there is a path for a moderate party in Alberta. It means going to the middle. However, someone is going to say that I have shown the “what”, but not the “how”. The “what” is the proof that tool is one that can bring forth an electoral victory, but where is the “how”?
For me, the how is simple: the Alberta Party just needs to have a Big Idea. Most successful parties have a “Big Idea”. But before that, someone is probably asking one question: who appointed this arse to the position of expert of Alberta Politics? My answer is simple: no one. Take my writing in that context, so back to the Big Idea.
Big Ideas are what drive political parties the world around. In the States, the Big Idea of the Republican Party which drove them – until quite recently – was the idea of limited government, individual freedom and individual responsibility. That idea – borne out of ending American Slavery in the 19th century – has driven the Party ever since. In Canada, the Reform Party was created because its leader – Preston Manning – argued that “the West wanted in”. The Party Quebecois came into being because Quebec wanted a better deal with the Rest of Canada; and the NDP came into being because the CCF members wanted to be better defend urban worker’s rights.
The Big Idea of the party is more than just the founding principles. It becomes the idea which drives the party long after the founding principles are achieved. Federally, in the case of the original Conservative Party, Sir John A. MacDonald’s Big Idea was to fix the problems inherent Province of Canada’s Legislature. To solve that problem, Sir MacDonald negotiated with five colonies to create the Dominion of Canada. While, the Big Idea of the Liberal Party of Canada would arguably be a nationalistic vision tied to individualism and binding together our dual linguistic and cultural heritage.
Or, in the words of Laurier: “I am branded in Québec as a traitor to the French, and in Ontario as a traitor to the English. In Québec I am branded as a jingo, and in Ontario as a separatist.… I am neither. I am a Canadian. Canada has been the inspiration of my life. I have had before me as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day a policy of true Canadianism, of moderation, of conciliation.”
The Alberta NDP has a Big Idea and so does the UCP. My question is simple: does the Alberta Party have a Big Idea? I would argue that we lost on April 16th, 2019 election because we don’t. Now, let me be honest, our Party needs many things. It is young and only just recently was it able to field a full slate of provincial candidates. With all of that being said, it is my humble opinion that a Big Idea could made us more competitive.
In Alberta, the NDP is the “Big Government Party” and the UCP is the “Limited Government Party”. In that context, what is the Alberta Party? Are we the “Limited Government but better Governance Party”? Are we the “Data is best” or “only science party”? I do know that we like to think of ourselves as a moderate party, a party of objective thought or a “solutions” based party. However, very few people find comfort in numbers or words. Comfort comes in stories, so what is the story that we are trying to tell? What type of Alberta do we want to have? What should be our Big Idea?
I would argue that our big idea should be about making an Alberta that will be competitive in 2030.