The Race is On

After months of waiting it’s finally here, Albertans will head to the ballot box on April 16. Premier Rachel Notley visited Lt. Gov. Lois Mitchell on Tuesday, March 19 to have the current legislature dissolved and with that Bill 1: An Act to Protect Public Health Care dies on the order paper.

Premier Notley kicked off the election in Calgary, a city that has been hit hard over the last four years and where polling has consistently forecast large United Conservative Party (UCP) victories. Notley highlighted the focus of her government on healthcare, education, fighting for pipelines and the minimum wage. Notley noted, in particular, the priority placed by the Alberta NDP Party (NDP) on the equality of all Albertans versus a two-tier, elitist Alberta she says is the objective of the UCP. Seizing on UCP scandals, Notley called UCP leader Jason Kenney a liar, challenged him to come clean during the campaign and asked Alberta Conservatives whether he is fit to be Premier.

The election call couldn’t come soon enough for the UCP. In the last week, questions have arisen leading some to ask whether a party genuinely representing Alberta conservatives has even been achieved. Ghosts from the distant and recent past have emerged into the media headlines. Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean is making waves and issuing critical missives, questions allege a “kamikaze” leadership candidate and allegations of illegal donations have continued to grow (the RCMP is now involved), members of constituency associations have resigned and star UCP candidate Caylan Ford was forced to resign.

Much of this is inside baseball. The NDP has also experienced disgruntled backbenchers, candidates unhappy at losing nominations, constituency associations feeling alienated from the party leaders and accusations of personal misconduct by elected and party officials. It’s also the case that leadership campaigns in Canadian politics do talk with one another, share information and perhaps strategize as the selection process moves forward.

The NDP have aggressively communicated on these revelations and are certain to do even more of the same during the campaign. UCP leader Jason Kenney has consistently replied that Albertans are hugely concerned about jobs, the economy and he will not be distracted from this focus by election campaign theatrics.

The big question is, do Albertans care? Do the revelations and allegations in the headlines really matter? Have the economic woes, setbacks and fear of still more to come solidified the UCP as the government-in-waiting? Or, will scandal push Albertans back – if reluctantly – to supporting the NDP they have come to know?

Campaigns matter and even more so today in Alberta. The NDP and UCP will communicate their visions for the province and criticisms of one another using all of the tools at their disposal until the very end. The polling has been clear, but particularly in the recent circumstances, there is ample opportunity to shift or solidify the point of view of Albertans.  Interesting days ahead.