by Tim Harper
Can a revolution repeat itself twice in five months? Or is lightning in a bottle, by its very nature, captured but once?
That is the political question in Alberta in this federal election, but the fact that any questions are being asked in Alberta during a federal campaign is news in itself.
So is this:
In the federal riding of Calgary-Skyview, NDP organizers claim that more than 1,500 people showed up for a nomination meeting.
In the federal riding of Edmonton-Mill Woods, 10 times more memberships have been sold in advance of this election than 2011, organizers boast, and 21 people contacted the riding association president about running in the riding.
A Conservative leader, Stephen Harper, comes home to warn Albertans about replicating their provincial “disaster” and rolling the dice with the federal NDP.
There are a number of factors that have yet to be properly parsed before anyone can suggest that Albertans are prepared to move to the federal NDP under Tom Mulcair the way they did in the spring with the embrace of NDP Premier Rachel Notley.
Right now, it doesn’t look like it. In fact, NDP support seems to be fading and, in some select ridings, its strength and improved Liberal fortunes may make this province look more like Ontario in 2011 with Conservatives counting on progressive splits for re-election.
But dismissing the possibility of another Orange Wave means ignoring what happened here in the spring.
Conservative support in the province appears to be running anywhere from the mid-40s and mid-50s, unachievable for parties anywhere else in any other region but disappointing here where Conservatives
have become accustomed to support north of 60 per cent.
Insiders agree that incumbents Joan Crockatt in Calgary Centre and Tim Uppal in Edmonton-Mill Woods have tough races, but if they fall, they will most likely fall to Liberals.
Edmonton Centre – once the riding of Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan, whose narrow victories earned her the nickname “Landslide Annie” – could easily go to New Democrat Gil McGowan, the former
president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, now that former Conservative MP Laurie Hawn has vacated.
Edmonton-Griesbach is also a potential NDP gain and the party will almost certainly hold its only seat, Linda Duncan’s Edmonton-Strathcona.
St. Albert-Edmonton is also in play and unique in 2015 Alberta.
Brent Rathgeber, who quit Harper’s caucus over what he called the prime minister’s suppression of his MPs and has written a book on the lack of Parliamentary accountability, cannot be counted out against his Conservative rival Michael Cooper. Or Rathgeber and Cooper could split the conservative vote and create an opening for another NDP seat. Rathgeber dismisses that, saying he is in a tight two-way fight with Cooper, but he also says the fallout from the plunging price of oil is the main electoral story in Alberta.
It’s not Harper’s fault that oil prices have fallen so badly, he says, nor is it Notley’s, but when people lose jobs they tend to punish whoever is in power. Harper made a similar point in a recent Edmonton stop, saying neither he nor Notley can be blamed for the price plunge. Still, he blamed the premier for dealing with the crisis improperly.
“Where’s their economic action plan?” he told an Edmonton audience.
In a bid to help the Mulcair New Democrats, Notley will not introduce a budget until after Oct. 19, but she has hiked taxes on the wealthy and increased the corporate tax rate to 12 per cent from 10 per cent, both campaign promises.
New Democrats had always believed Notley would still be in an extended honeymoon period when federal voters went to the polls, but she is not impervious to cratered oil prices and layoff notices.
She will still be popular, but there is growing uneasiness with her lack of a budget and her industry royalty review and tax hikes – the Harper message – says James Rajotte, the outgoing Edmonton-Leduc
Conservative MP and long-time chair of the parliamentary finance committee.
“People here are hurting and 2016 is not shaping up as a very good year in Alberta,” he says.
Notley is also not Mulcair and the federal leader has had to temper his oilsands comments.
Notley also benefited from a strong protest vote and a split right between the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose.
She essentially took the Harper route to victory, conquering a divided opposition.
What the NDP does have is enthusiasm, provincial polling numbers in some Edmonton ridings rarely seen outside North Korea, and a much stronger roster of volunteers.
Sometimes political enthusiasm can cover a number of cracks. If they believe they are in these races, that can go a long way, and New Democrats may eventually muscle themselves into those races.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column usually appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Copyright 2015 – Torstar Syndication Services