Lordy (as we Albertans say) what an election. Looking on from afar it would seem that little has changed: another Progressive Conservative majority while the Liberals and NDP putter along with a handful of seats each. Weren't the Wildrose supposed to make some noise? The pollsters must have screwed up.
Actually, a number of big and surprising things happened and there is nothing like the old status quo in Alberta today. The Wildrose, our new Republican party, led all election polls from wire to wire during the campaign. Many headlines this morning are pointing a finger at the pollsters and how inaccurate they were, even though this same polling information was used yesterday to make bold predictions. I think the polls were in fact accurate, including the final one done by Forum the day before the election. The Forum poll showed a sudden 4% gain for the PC and an equally sharp 3% drop for Wildrose (which still had Wildrose leading 38% to 36%). Nothing newsworthy happened in the last 48 hours, but I believe there was a lot of last-minute soul searching happening after the last poll was done. Possibly even in the voting booth itself. In fact, the polls that consistently pointed to a Wildrose government may have helped give many voters cold feet. The seed of doubt may have been planted with a couple of prominent
Wildrose candidates' inappropriate comments (and possibly the
fact that their leader endorsed this as freedom of speech). The PC voter was enjoying a whirlwind romance with the sexy, exciting new Wildrose. It got serious and they set a date. But when the big day arrived, PC stood her up at the altar.
We may have dodged a bullet, but it won't be the last one. Over one-third of the province voted Wildrose: for every five people who voted PC, four voted Wildrose. Wildrose is not going away anytime soon. Many of the PC-Wildrose showdowns could have gone the other way quite easily. There were 16 constituencies where the PC beat the Wildrose by under one thousand votes. The potential to form the government was defintiely there. Now they have to prove they are a credible opposition party, as opposed to a bunch of amateurish bigots who think that "commandments" and "laws" are interchangeable terms. Just sayin'.
Watching from the left, I'm not sure exactly what has been happening to the Progressive Conservative party. They seemed to benefit from a lot of strategic anyone-but-Wildrose voting last night, mainly at the expense of the Liberals. This confirms the gradual move to the centre under the leadership of Alison Redford. I think it was the defection of the far right to Wildrose that started the process a few years ago. Perhaps there is some hope for progressives in Alberta, that the PC party might move far enough to the left, or at least away from the right, that it becomes palatable.
(Although I confess I have a hard time with these right and left labels. I think of myself as progressive and on the left, but have a bit of a libertarian streak that is commonly associated with the right. Generally I'm more conservative on financial issues, but I find in practice the lefty parties actually have a better economic track record than governments from the right. Here's my definition instead. If you care only about yourself, you want everyone to be like you and everything to be the way it used to be, that's right wing. If you care about others, embrace diversity and accept change, that's left wing.)
So we find ourselves with a continuation of the PC dynasty which will become the longest ever in Canada in a couple of years, and a swath of green that is mainly confined to the rural areas in the south. The Wildrose managed only two seats out of 48 in Alberta's four largest cities, and only one win in the northern half of the province. This geography has the potential to be very polarizing.
I was surprised by Raj Sherman, who showed a lot of class and experience even though his own seat was in doubt most of the evening. He ended up winning by 118 votes. Today he is a survivor, as are the Liberals who were is legitimate danger of being shut out. Had he lost, his political career would likely be over as a failed leader. I have no doubt he was aware of this as he spoke last night, how different his life would be depending on a few dozen voters.
I was also encouraged by tone of the New Democrats. They doubled their seat count (from two to four), but there seemed to be a new spirit of cooperation and moderation as well. Maybe the Wildrose scared the crap out of everyone else so that the differences between the three traditional parties don't seem so bad all of a sudden.
We may just be at the start of a new political maturity in Alberta. But I have faith we'll find a way to drag ourselves back to the gutter somehow. Things change, but not too much.