With less than a week to go before the provincial election on May 5, it’s a good time to take a look at what each of the major parties are hoping to achieve and what would constitute a win, and conversely a loss, for each of them.
In most places around the world, if you’ve formed a majority government you have won, if you form a minority government you have neither won nor lost, and if you don’t form government at all you have lost. But this is Alberta, where the same party has had a majority government for over 43 years. We have a more nuanced understanding here of what constitutes a political win and a political loss.
The Progressive Conservative party, for example, could find itself in a position where it forms a majority government and still could be seen to have lost. Anything less than the 70 seats the party had at dissolution would be seen as less than a win, especially if that number was to drop below the 61 seats it won in the last provincial election. Losing any of its marquee candidates like Stephen Mandel, Gordon Dirks or Tony Caterina would be a significant loss for the Tories, as would seeing any of the party’s incumbent cabinet ministers lose their seats. Likewise, at this point, any Calgary seats lost to the NDP or rural seats lost to the Wildrose Party would also be a huge loss for the party. Of course, the biggest loss for the party would be not being able to hold on to a majority government. When you take a closer look, it becomes clear that the PCs have the most to lose and the fewest possible avenues to a win. Any combination of the potential losses above and you can expect the calls for a new leader to begin almost immediately.
The Wildrose Party has almost nothing to lose in this election and the most avenues to a win. Given that its leader was elected the week before the election kicked off, that more than half of the party’s caucus defected in December, and that as late as the day of the writ people had written off the party for dead, just the fact that it’s managed to field almost a full slate of candidates and is actually making a race of this are already huge wins. As such, for the Wildrose, any of a majority, a minority, official opposition status or even just electing more MLAs than the party had when the writ was dropped would be a win. In fact, even just winning back the five seats it had would be a win, although a disappointing one. Short of getting wiped out of the Legislature altogether, it’s hard to fathom what might constitute a loss for the Wildrose.
Likewise, the NDP has scored many wins already. It is the only opposition party that fielded a full slate of candidates, the only party that achieved, and even surpassed, gender parity in its candidates and its leader, Rachel Notley, was the hands-down winner in the televised debate. Given the party’s renewed energy and fundraising success, losing one of its incumbents or not winning any new seats would be a huge loss for the NDP. Beyond that, however, everything looks like a win. Gaining any more seats in Edmonton would be a win; gaining seats outside of Edmonton, especially in Calgary or rural Alberta, would be a huge win for the party. Reaching the number of MLAs it had in 1986 and 1989, 16, would be a victory that even the most stalwart NDs would not have been able to imagine just a year ago. It also goes without saying that becoming official opposition or the government in a minority or majority, all of which are in play if the polls are to be believed, would be the largest wins the party could hope for.
For the Alberta Liberal party, the potential wins would be much more modest. Given the state of the party and the poll numbers it is recording, simply coming out of the election with its five existing seats intact would be a huge win. Anything less, especially any scenario that involves the party losing one of its two incumbents, would be a loss for the Liberals. A loss of that nature, combined with the growing New Democrat surge, could spell the death of the Liberal Party in Alberta after May 5.
The only other party that seems to be in a position to score any type of win is the Alberta Party, and the win it could score would be to have its leader, Greg Clark, defeat incumbent PC education minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary. Conversely, should the party fail once again to win a seat in the Legislature, it is difficult to fathom how it might be able to continue making the case for its particular brand of politics and organizing. Failing to elect anyone would be difficult for the party to overcome, especially given the NDP’s success this election in establishing itself as the go-to place for progressive voters in the province.
All in all, May 5 promises to be interesting and exciting, perhaps more so than any election night this province has seen since 1971. Of course, this being Alberta, and it is also entirely possible that all of the polls have been horribly wrong and nothing will change at all. For the sake of democracy and keeping it interesting, let’s hope for the former. V
Ricardo Acuña is the executive director of the Parkland Institute, a non-partisan, public policy research institute housed at the University of Alberta. The views and opinions expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute.