On May 1, the writ for the Alberta election dropped. Since then, candidates all over the province have been campaigning, and voters have been thinking about who they will vote for on May 29.
Political observers are calling this election a “tight race” between the Alberta New Democratic Party (NDP), and the United Conservative Party (UCP), which is running for re-election. The Gateway sat down with Feodor Snagovsky, an assistant professor in the department of political science at the University of Alberta, to dissect key components of the election.
“The system is not set up to sustainably have more than two parties,” Snagovksy says
Out of the 14 political parties registered in the provincial election, the UCP and the NDP are leading in the polls. Vote splitting, allowed by Alberta’s electoral system, could affect the outcome, according to Snagovksy.
All provincial governments in Canada — as well as the federal government — use the first-past-the-post electoral system, also known as single-member plurality voting.
In this system, voters choose a candidate in their riding and the candidate with the most votes wins. However, if there are more than two candidates, a candidate can win even if they had less than 50 per cent of the votes.
“The NDP came to power in 2015, partly because of what they were saying was resonating. But also because the vote on the right-side of the political spectrum was being split by the Progressive Conservative (PC) party and the Wildrose party,” Snagovsky said.
“[The NDP] were able to still win because the system allowed them to win, even though more people had voted for the other parties. I think that was a very visceral lesson [for] the political right.”
The Wildrose party and the PC party merged in 2017 to create the UCP. In 2019, the UCP won the provincial election. In the current provincial election, parties on the political left are currently experiencing what the political right experienced in 2015, according to Snagovsky.
“The left is seeing the same thing happen. If someone in the Alberta Party or the Green Party ended up having more popularity and getting more votes, those votes are almost certainly at the expense of the NDP, which might allow the UCP to win,” Snagovksy said. “The system is not set up to sustainably have more than two parties.”
“It’s unlikely that people watching the debate changed their minds,” Snagovsky says
On May 18, NDP leader Rachel Notley and UCP leader Danielle Smith went head-to-head in the Alberta Leaders Debate. Both brought similar experience to the table, as both have served as premier and opposition leader.
The debate featured questions on healthcare, affordability, and the economy. Both leaders made political jabs at the opposing party’s record, and the trustworthiness of their opponent.
Hours before the debate, Alberta Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler found Smith guilty of violating the Conflicts of Interests Act. Notley mentioned this in her opening statement during the debate.
“You know you can’t trust Danielle Smith,” Notley said. “Having learned today that Danielle Smith broke the law, I will also protect our law, and I will never break it. When I say something I mean it, and that’s the difference between Danielle and me.”
Shortly after, Smith brought up Notley’s premiership in 2015-19, saying that “Notley likes to show grainy videos of things I said while I was on radio.”
“The reason she does that is she doesn’t want to run on her record. And the reason she doesn’t want to run on her record is, it was an absolute disaster.”
Despite the criticisms and topics covered in the debate, Snagovsky said that “it’s very unlikely” that the debate changed many voters’ minds.
“Smith was a little more polished and prepared. But, she was very confidently saying things that are factually incorrect … which may influence people,” he said. “Having said that, low-information voters probably weren’t watching the debate.”
Polling firms have been releasing projections on what party is in the lead throughout the campaign. Janet Brown is an “Alberta pollster with a long record of producing startling results that turn out to be right,” the Calgary Herald reported.
On May 15, a leaked poll that Brown had done for her private clients projected the UCP winning 56 seats and the NDP winning 31.
“I would encourage people not to read too much into that. I think that in the next few days, particularly after the debate that happened, a number of higher quality polls will be released,” Snagovsky said.
“Any given poll is sort of a snapshot in time. The longer term trend — when you have poll after poll after poll showing the same things — starts to create a more credible picture. I think, for the most part, the polling has actually been pretty consistent with the NDP ahead.”
Many Albertan voters have an “identity of voting conservative,” making an alternative “tough to imagine”
Although Election Day is near, candidates still have time to change voter’s minds, according to Snagovsky.
“I think there’s still room for people to change their mind, which is difficult for people to understand if they’re very entrenched in their political views,” he said.
The PC party governed Alberta from 1971-2015, a total of 43 years until the NDP won. Because Albertans grew accustomed to the PC party governing, Snagovsky said that the NDP’s win in 2015 was an “outlier.”
“People are used to thinking of themselves as conservative. They’re used to sending conservative members of parliament to Ottawa. It’s always been this way,” he said. “For many, it’s tough to imagine that there could be an alternative.”
“Lots of voters — particularly in Alberta — have this identity of voting conservative. It’s tough to shake that. But, particularly among a lot of the UCP voters, there’s going to be potential for movement.”