Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Alberta election redux, all partisanship aside

The expected and negative:

The Tories won a majority of the seats. Honestly, until the votes cast in Edmonton and Calgary start counting as much as the ones cast in the rural areas, there's not much that can be done about that, even in elections where every little thing doesn't go their way.

Turnout was well down even from what the Alberta turnout normally is: a mere 41%.

The unexpected and negative:

Where should I even begin?

The Tories won a majority of the vote. Not by a lot, but 53% is still an absolute majority. I didn't have terribly high hopes for this election, but I certainly expected the vote percentage to go down under Stelmach, not up.

The NDP caucus was cut in half. The Liberal caucus was also cut in half. The sole Wildrose-Alliance party seat was lost to the Tory wave. All in all, this makes for a massively weakened opposition, and a kick in the crotch to democracy.

No hint of the much-ballyhooed Liberal gains in Calgary. I'm no Liberal, but I admit that I believed the hype.

Even in "Redmonton," only the core urban constituencies remained various shades of red and orange.

As for individual seats, the biggest single loss is David Eggen, and yes, that works even in an "all partisanship aside" post. That man has been the hardest-working MLA in the legislature, and if anyone deserved to win reelection this time around, it was him. And the runner-up may well be the Liberals' Mo Esalhy, for whom I have the profoundest respect. Lots of good people lost their seats this time, but those are the two that stand out as completely tragic.

The expected and positive:

Edmonton-Strathcona's new MLA is the marvelous Rachel Notley, with close to 50% of the vote. A lot of New Democrats are fond of saying "the legislature needs a Notley," but for me it's very much "the legislature needs RACHEL Notley," and I couldn't be prouder to have this amazing woman as my MLA. (Confidential to Mr. Berta: Seriously, all partisanship aside. Give her another look with less partisan glasses once the pain of this loss wears off, and I think you'll see what I see. Even if you never let yourself admit it.)

One of the Tory gains was Janice Sarich. I don't agree with her about pretty much any of the core issues, but I appreciate the way she has reached out to the agents of democratic reform in this province, and occasionally even counted herself among them. She's been a surprisingly positive force in this province as a civilian, and presuming Ed Stelmach doesn't surgically remove her spine as soon as she gets sworn in, I think she'll be a positive force in that caucus, too.

The unexpected and positive:


I got nothin'.


KevinG said...

Honestly, until the votes cast in Edmonton and Calgary start counting as much as the ones cast in the rural areas, ...

Can you explain what that means? Is there some special disproportionality or am I missing something obvious.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Whoops, sorry! I was pretty tired yesterday.

And yeah, in Alberta representation by population is pretty skewed toward the rural areas--a discrepancy successive Tory governments haven't had much reason to want to do away with, since it's the rural areas that give them their strength. This 2003 article (it's a .pdf) from Alberta Views magazine gives more details. And it's gotten a lot worse in the years since then, because the cities' population has been increasing much more rapidly than that of the rural areas during the oil boom.

KevinG said...

Thanks. If there's no stomach for some form of PR I'm thinking a mandatory periodic review might not be too much to ask.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Unfortunately, this is an entirely separate issue from that of proportional representation. Representation by population is about making the constituencies each of approximately equal size, population-wise, and proportional representation is about making the number of seats reflect the percentage of the vote. Ideally, Alberta needs both (but I'd settle for either, to start with).

KevinG said...

Oops, you're right of course.

Ben (The Tiger in Exile) said...

That election surprised me.

I thought those Liberal ads about how, you know, once every thirty-seven years, it's time to change governments -- I thought those actually made a pretty good point.

But maybe people are right, when they say that the Liberal brand is just so tainted that the party needs a new name.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


It surprised me, too. I really did believe the hype about the Liberals. I didn't think they would win, but I certainly thought they would gain. And honestly, like you, I thought they ran a good campaign.

I think it's more complicated than a name change, though. The reason why all the predictions were wrong isn't that the polls were wrong, it's that nobody could imagine that none of those undecideds voted. Before the Liberals do anything rash like a name change, they need to find out why that happened. Because if they can find a way to tap into that group without a name change (which would inevitably lose them some of their base, which at twentysomething percent isn't small), they should take that route. The problem is that I think it might be a complex interplay of factors, at which point they might just be SOL.

The other issue, of course, is logistics: the province didn't re-enumerate ahead of time, and so while the Tories got to work from their nice new leadership race lists, the other parties were working from lists that hadn't been current in Alberta since 2004. In Edmonton and Calgary, cities that have seen unprecedented growth since 2004, this was a disaster. Unlike the campaign described in that post, I worked on a winning campaign, but I can tell you that some of the same problems were apparent there as well. We just had enough of a base and enough of a head start to overcome them.

Ben (The Tiger in Exile) said...

I miss the old days, when Elections Canada enumerators would go door to door before every election and ask how many people lived there who were over 18.

I remember being a grade school kid getting my parents registered before the 1992 referendum, because I was home alone one afternoon...

Sometimes "modernization" isn't progress. (See Florida 2000, etc.)

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Oh, as far as I know, Elections Canada still does that. This time, though, it was up to Elections Alberta to do or not do that, and they chose not to. Some people are seeing something sinister in that decision, and they may be right, but either way, I think it was a contributing factor.

Ben (The Tiger in Exile) said...

They still sample some places. But no, they used to go to every single door in the country -- like a census before each election -- to make up the list of voters.

I think it changed sometime in the mid-90s.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, Rachel Notley's brother is Stephen Notley, who does the web-and-alternative-paper comic
Bob the Angry Flower, which I personally find hilarious especially when it gets political.
My favourite:
Couple of other political ones:
And, from election 2004, who could forget "Those Wacky Americans":

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


It's impossible to be an Alberta New Democrat and not know that Rachel and Stephen Notley are related! But thanks for the specific examples. *g*

The Alberta Report Editorial Collective said...

Hi IP - that was my post on the enumeration.

Yes, NDP campaign lists were somewhat updated with 06 federal and some muni data. This was less so in the seat I worked on.

I don't see anything "sinister" in the lack of enumeration. Just incompetence, and it was a set of circumstances that favoured the Tories. But it was just that, circumstances. I don't think the NDP helped its own cause much, with the way it treated the incumbents who were in actual races (ie Eggen and Martin).
Shannon Phillips