Setting the Stage – Alberta Election 2019

The NDP has set the date for the return of the Alberta Legislature; March 18th with a Throne Speech. It is widely expected that the speech will set the stage for the NDP’s election platform and that Premier Rachel Notley will immediately visit Lt. Gov. Lois Mitchell to ask for the dissolution of the 29th Legislature. If this scenario plays out, election day will be on April 15th. However, there is speculation the government will proceed with a short session hoping to paint the opposition as the party that will destroy the province.

When the Throne Speech is read, expect a speech reiterating NDP policies, positions and actions of the last four years: a focus on families, the environment and developing Alberta’s infrastructure and fighting for pipelines. The NDP will want to highlight their increases to minimum wage, $25/day daycare, new family tax credits, tuition freezes, expanded funding for health care and increased supports for disadvantaged Albertans.

With the politicization of all government announcements in the last month, perhaps the NDP could forget about the traditional Throne Speech and simply have the Lt. Governor read their party platform whose theme is: “The Future is coming – and it’s Made in Alberta.”  Government-run ads, with campaign slogan headlines have cost the tax payer over $1.5 million in the past weeks.

On the other side of the aisle, the United Conservative Party led by Jason Kenney are using the Province of Alberta’s official motto as their platform theme: Alberta Strong and Free. Kenney’s platform is expected to focus on the economy and outline how a UCP government will support Alberta’s energy industry and undo regulatory red tape, policy and costs imposed by the NDP government.

What’s next? The election campaign has not even been called and it’s already getting nasty. Expect an ugly campaign that will get personal and angry. There will be no love lost on the campaign trail.

Polls show the UCP far ahead of the NDP in all corners of the province. But expect things to tighten up in the City of Edmonton the closer we get to election day.  Across the province, the carbon tax, farm and labour legislation have not been well received by many Albertans. Similarly, despite the leadership role of Rachel Notley on the pipeline file, the failure of the government’s “social license” strategy to move any of these projects forward has greatly damaged the NDP’s chances to hold onto more than 10 seats.

Turnout is important in any election. Turnout will be even more important in the 2019 election. If UCP members and supporters take victory for granted, battleground ridings could become more competitive. For the NDP who came to office on a wave of voters seeking change, holding onto the ballots of one-time supporters will be key to the election outcome. With a major Spring 2018 poll showing Rachel Notley to be more popular than the NDP and Jason Kenney to be less popular than the UCP, the one sure bet is that interesting days lie ahead.

Battleground Constituencies

Calgary-Elbow: Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark currently represents this constituency and has been a largely one-issue MLA: flood protection. Will UCP Doug Schweitzer be able to appeal to constituents on other policy issues? Or will the NDP’s candidate, Janet Eremenko, who also is pushing the flood protection agenda eek out a surprise win.

Calgary-Buffalo: Will Finance Minister Joe Ceci, a well-known name in the constituency, go down in defeat to UCP Tom Olsen? Ceci’s time as a City of Calgary Councillor gives him name recognition.

Calgary-Mountain View: Several high-profile candidates are running in this constituency. This constituency has been represented by retiring Liberal MLA David Swann. Anything can happen – victory will depend on how the vote splits between Caylan Ford (UCP), Angela Kolkott (Alberta Party) and Kathleen Ganley (NDP, Minister of Justice). Alberta Liberal leader David Khan is running as well, but is not expected to garner many votes.

Calgary-Varsity: Anne McGrath, Executive Director of the Premier’s Southern Office is running as the NDP candidate. This was riding has flip-flopped between conservatives and liberals in the past and given the University of Calgary sits in the middle of the constituency McGrath may be able to keep this constituency orange.

Edmonton-McClung: Former Edmonton Mayor and leader of the Alberta Party, Stephen Mandel is up against a formidable challenger in former Crown Prosecutor Laurie Mozeson of the UCP. Edmontonians have either love or hate Mandel, no middle ground which may impact his chance of election.

Chestermere-Strathmore: Current UCP Deputy Leader Leela Aheer will be challenged by disgruntled MLA Derek Fildebrandt. Fildebrandt was asked to resign as a UCP MLA after several scandals in the past year. He formed his own party, Alberta Freedom Conservative, and is the only candidate running. With the re-drawing of electoral boundaries, two current MLAs face off against each other will prove to be an interesting race.

Lethbridge-West: NDP Shannon Phillips, Minister of the Environment, currently represents this constituency. Lethbridge-West has always had NDP-leanings, despite being represented by conservatives for many years. Why watch this constituency? Phillips has gotten into hot water in recent weeks regarding consultations on Big Horn Country land use and was criticized for offering a different version of events than the RCMP. It will be interesting to see how this translates on election day.