At the end of it all, an election is about hope. Ballots are cast in the hope that your selected candidate and team will deliver a better future than the others contending to seat themselves on the government side of the house.
Alberta is sorely in need of hope these days. Since the plunge of global oil prices in 2014, an economic downturn that seems without end has hit all corners of the province. Historically, we have indeed experienced worse and technically – in the cells of Excel spreadsheets – Alberta is indeed recovering but visit most any community and the continuing losses and worry for the future dominate our provincial narrative.
Much has been written about Alberta’s traditional culture and character. Others have said the great influx of new residents to the province have changed these things and created a new kind of Alberta. Each is used by their proponents to explain and forecast Alberta politics and while there is some measure of truth in the stereotypes, each misses the simple foundation that will underscore the 2019 vote.
For the great majority of Albertans, jobs and the economy are the singular overriding priority for the province and the election is seen to be about which leader and team is seen to be best equipped to deliver on this priority. For Albertans, the election is about hope for jobs and the economy for themselves and their kids after years of loss and fear that more is still to come.
The NDP are running on the record of their first term in office and promise to continue the same policy path going forward. The UCP too are running on the NDP’s record pointing to no new pipelines, unemployment, businesses failing and mounting government debt while promising a new policy path for the future.
All of the rest matters – education, healthcare, environment and social policy of many descriptions. The lion’s share of negative campaigning – with both sides giving as good as they get – has in fact, been about these very issues. As we write today though, none of it has changed the economic imperative felt across this province. As we’ve said before on this measure, Jason Kenney is consistently seen to be the leader who offers the greatest hope.
If the polling proves true and a large UCP majority is elected to government, Jason Kenney will move swiftly to appoint a cabinet and senior staff and recall the legislature. Many of the hallmark policies of the NDP will quickly be consigned to the history books in a spring session of the legislature. What the future would hold for remaining members of the former NDP government, most notably Rachel Notley and her senior cabinet ministers, is much less clear. Some are well positioned to hang onto their local riding, but life as an opposition leader and opposition backbenchers may hold little attraction. A series of resignations and by-elections could follow in the fall.
If the polling proves wrong (and we must acknowledge anything can still happen on election day), Rachel Notley will return as Premier and say the NDP’s “balanced fiscal approach” – i.e. continuing to spend – better reflects Albertans preferred approach to government finances than the cutbacks and austerity imagined under the UCP. Having promised billions in new spending during the campaign and insisting the provincial budget will still be balanced by 2023-24, Notley is gambling that the already shaken confidence of business, financial institutions and investors will not quickly erode further still.
After Tuesday, Alberta provincial politics could look very different. What will remain is the longest recession Alberta has ever experienced and the hope that our provincial leaders can deliver a better future. The polling stations close at 8 p.m. MDT. Soon after we will know in whom Albertans have entrusted their hope for the next four years.