A united right yanked the reins of power from the New Democratic Party on Tuesday and returned Alberta to its historically conservative political roots.
With vote-splitting a hindrance of the recent past, premier-designate Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party ran up a massive majority — their candidates led in 63 of 87 ridings at 10:45 p.m. The incumbent New Democrats were cut virtually in half by the intense blue wave — they looked to elect 24 MLAs, down from 52 at dissolution — and will stand ignominiously as the only one-term government in the province’s history.
By 10:30 p.m., a victorious Kenney stood before a raucous crowd of supporters in Calgary — where he was elected comfortably in the Lougheed riding — and declared the province open for business and himself ready to get the job done.
“Albertans have elected a government that will be obsessed with getting this province back to work,” Kenney said.
‘Free enterprise values over the politics of resentment’
“Today Albertans have chosen hope over fear and unity over division,” he said. “They have chosen free enterprise values over the politics of resentment.”
The UCP cleaned up as expected in rural Alberta. Its economy-forward, fight-for-pipelines messaging was also immensely successful in Calgary, which has been hit hard by the slowdown in the oil and gas industry. Calgary had been seen as the crucial battleground for a potential NDP resistance. But in fact, the UCP obliterated the New Democrats there as its candidates were leading or had been elected in 21 of that city’s 26 ridings by 10:45 p.m.
The UCP won back several Calgary seats that went to the NDP in the 2015 election, when Wildrose and Progressive Conservative candidates combined for 51.99 per cent of the popular vote, while the NDP polled 40.59 per cent. This time around, the UCP had about 53 per cent of the popular vote at 10 p.m., the New Democrats just 33 per cent.
A clear majority of Alberta voters outside Edmonton approved of the UCP’s dominant themes on the economy. Their choices at the ballot box were made clearer because they heard that message from only one voice on the right side of the political spectrum.
The New Democrats held sway only in their traditional Edmonton power base. Leader Rachel Notley defended her Strathcona riding with ease, her former health minister Sarah Hoffman did the same in Glenora and former education minister David Eggen was elected in Edmonton-North West.
Notley offered Kenney congratulations and a pledge of co-operation for a smooth transition of power.
“I must say as proud as I am of our record, the people of Alberta have spoken. Democracy is our absolute highest value and I accept their decision,” she said.
Notley also made it clear she would not step down. She will instead fight on for the voices she feared the UCP would silence.
“Albertans have hired us to lead a constructive and effective opposition. As leader of the opposition I will do the job to the best of my ability and with the utmost integrity. I will defend the values we carried forward in government and the decisions those values drove. And I will make sure that our vision of Alberta endures through a vigorous and robust opposition, holding government to account and making sure the voices of all Albertans are heard in their Legislature.”
As the evening progressed and the reality of the night set in, NDP supporters had trickled into the Edmonton Convention Centre, with about 350 people waiting on Notley and other candidates to arrive. The crowd gave sporadic cheers as elected NDP candidates were announced, but the mood was generally reserved.
Cheryl Oates, a campaign strategist who worked as Notley’s director of communications, said people are “incredibly proud” of the campaign the NDP ran.
“Tonight our party is stronger than it has ever been,” she said in an interview. “No matter what the final result is at the end of the vote tallying, I think it’s fair to say that we have fundamentally changed politics in this province.”
No other party managed to elect a single candidate. Party leaders Stephen Mandel (Alberta Party), David Khan (Liberals) and Derek Fildebrandt (Freedom Conservative Party) were steamrolled by UCP or New Democrat candidates.
This election was a vitriolic, two-party battle that rarely relented through 28 days of campaigning. Notley attacked Kenney early and often, in part for standing by a few candidates who displayed intolerant behaviour. Kenney turned the “Rachel Notley-Justin Trudeau alliance” into an oft-hurled epithet.
When campaigning turned away from personal broadsides toward the issues, the sluggish economy was front and centre, left and right. UCP candidates beat a steady rhythm of jobs, pipelines and the economy, at the expense of a social safety net. Notley and the NDs countered the UCP message with a pledge to diversify the economy and fight for pipelines, all while maintaining health, education and daycare spending.
UCP voters seemed unswayed by a series of so-called bozo eruptions from their favoured candidates after racist and homophobic statements were revealed. And it was obvious that an RCMP investigation into the UCP’s 2017 leadership race, after allegations of voter fraud were made public by members and former members of the party, held no lasting effect on an electorate that was motivated to go to the polls.
That electorate was clearly engaged, as 696,000 people cast advance ballots, including 223,000 at the 260 so-called “vote anywhere” locations in malls and recreation centres. Elections Alberta will only begin counting the vote anywhere ballots at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. And it’s possible those votes will have an effect on some close races.
However, the runaway UCP victory is safe, and it validated much of the polling data gathered throughout the campaign. When the writ dropped on March 19, an Ipsos poll showed the UCP with 52 per cent support province-wide, compared to 35 per cent for the NDs.
Another Ipsos poll in early April, following the leaders’ debate, showed the UCP at 47 per cent, the NDs at 39. And on April 15, a day before the election, Ipsos had the UCP at 50 per cent, the NDs at 40.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019