HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
By GRAHAM HICKS
How did it happen on May 29, 2023?
How could an entire city vote for the opposition in a provincial election?
How could an entire ALBERTA city, one-third of the province’s population, elect 20 New Democrat socialists into the provincial legislature? One hundred per cent New Democrat! Not a sliver of blue to be seen in an ocean of orange.
I mean, this is ALBERTA – the Texas of Canada, capitalist to its very bones, Canada’s conservative bedrock!
The rest of the province stayed true to form - rural Alberta went 100 per cent to the right, to the governing United Conservative Party.
Calgary was a battleground between UCP and New Democrats, but the UCP won over half of Calgary’s seats,
Outlier Edmonton sent a wave of labour organizers, teachers, social workers and nurses to the provincial legislature – Not a single one of them will sit at the cabinet table, or even in the governing party caucus.
Edmonton 100% re-elected the party that entered power in 2015 with an $12 billion deficit, and promptly ran it up to $70 billion in just four short years.
We – the good voters of Edmonton’s capital - deliberately, on purpose, decided not to have anything to do with the party now in power.
It was not even close. The tightest race was in the central Edmonton-Decore riding, where charismatic and moderate UCP candidate Sayed Ahmed still lost by 1,600 votes.
Edmonton South West was the one riding the UCP won in Edmonton in 2019, when Kaycee Madu won by 1000 votes. This time around incumbent Madu lost by 3,600 votes.
Yes, the NDs have owned Edmonton of late.
But it wasn’t always thus.
For the last few decades, Edmonton has had 20 provincial ridings, give or take a few.
The Conservatives took 14 in 2012, 13 in 2004 and all but one back in 1982.
The now near-extinct Alberta Liberal Party, under the late, great Laurence Decore, swept Edmonton in 1993. Like today’s NDs, they won the Edmonton battle but lost the Alberta war to Ralph Klein’s Conservatives.
Conservative Dave Hancock, for a short time interim premier and currently a provincial judge, held Edmonton Whitemud through five elections, from 1997 to 2014.
The question is why?
The old saw that Edmonton is a civil service town is a truism. It’s a good bet if you added up the number of unionized employees – in the provincial government itself, in health care, teaching, municipal and federal employees – you’ll have the single biggest voting block in the province.
Every voter has a relative who works in the public service – and which party is the Friend of Unions? Far more Edmonton voters care about their own paycheques than worry about soaring provincial debt …
Edmontonians – if they even think about political ideology – are a moderate bunch. This New Democratic provincial party is probably one of the most “conservative” in Canada.
Meanwhile, the UCP took a dramatic turn to the radical right when it ousted centrist Jason Kenny as premier and elected Danielle Smith on her internal leadership platform of anti-vaxxing and sympathy for the truck driver protests. Certainly urban Edmonton perceived the UCP as marching to newly strident drums.
Personalities played a big factor. Alberta ND leader Rachel Notley has done an extraordinary job in becoming one of Edmonton’s most popular politicians ever. This city has had a love affair with Rachel ever since she was first elected in 2008. Her personal popularity played a major role in the ND repeat sweep.
Danielle Smith, on the other hand, has never had much to do with Edmonton. As a talk radio host, her audience was all Calgary, all Southern Alberta.
Whether true or not, her public persona in Edmonton - fanned by the ND – was one of a brittle, hard-right, slightly wacky and given to making alarming statements about privatizing health care … which sent shivers up the backbones of our public service. No matter how moderate Danielle tried to sound – and she did very well in the one televised leadership debate – Edmonton did not trust her.
Deliberate electoral strategy: The UCP knew it was unlikely to make any inroads in Edmonton – only the most optimistic saw the party making a “break through” in Edmonton by winning maybe three seats.
They absolutely ignored Edmonton, making an understandable decision to place all their marbles into winnable Calgary seats. While the NDs were equally focused on Calgary, they had a reservoir of good will in Edmonton that they knew would serve them well.
Did it ever.
The good news for moderate conservatives is that the UCP did win the war – at least Alberta has a pro-business government that will stick up for Albertans against a federal government determined to sacrifice this province on the alter of climate change.
The bad news is that Edmonton will once again be perceived by corporate and political leaders as second drawer to Calgary when it comes to starting up or expanding business.
One senses that my fellow Edmontonians are rapidly becoming an unambitious lot, more interested in civil service/public sector job security and gold-plated pension plans than encouraging a dynamic business sector attracting an influx of ambitious entrepreneurs.
Electing a 100% socialist slate to the provincial legislature does send out a certain vibe to Canada and those international financiers deciding where in the world to make major business investments.