Grading the Campaigns

In my post The Paths to Success for Alberta’s Political Parties, I outlined what it would take for each party to be successful. With just a few days left on the campaign, let’s look at how they’ve done.report

Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta

What did they need to do?

  • Avoid treating the election as a necessary evil. The PCs have governed for almost 44 years and have to avoid coming off as arrogant and dismissive of democratic structures.
  • Continue to occupy the majority of the centre right of the political spectrum while pushing the Wildrose further to the fringe right.
  • Prentice needs to avoid making unforced errors throughout the campaign. He has proven that he has a penchant for walking himself into mistakes (ie blaming Albertans, candidate nomination messes, Bill 10, mishandling the floor crossing) and under the pressure of a campaign, mistakes like these are far more likely.
  • Successfully sell the need for a budget that included billions of dollars of increased taxes.
  • Divorce themselves from the PC policies that created the fiscal hole that Alberta government is in.
  • Frame the election as a PC vs NDP battle. This would marginalize both the Wildrose and Liberals and would allow the PCs to pick up potential “blue Liberal” voters in Calgary and Edmonton while picking up moderate Wildrose supporters.

How have they done?

Jim Prentice has run on his name and on his budget. Both have become anchors that have dragged down his campaign. He has not been able to avoid coming off as arrogant and his downer personality has been off-putting. He has continued to cause unforced errors (ie “Math is Hard) and his campaign has been unable to prove agile enough to get back on course. He has framed the election as a PC vs NDP battle but by the time he did so, the PCs had sunk pretty deep and was in third place in the polls. The fearmongering against the NDP hasn’t proved particularly effective thus far and it appears that the end is nigh for the PC dynasty.

Grade: F

Wildrose Party of Alberta

What did they need to do?

  • Spend significant resources to build Brian Jean’s media profile.
  • Capitalize on the opening presented by the tax increases in the budget to build a compelling case for a strong fiscally conservative opposition.
  • Focus on the constituencies that they currently represent and target a few additional constituencies that have weak incumbents. Don’t stretch resources too thin.
  • Determine if they will present themselves as a rural right wing populist party or a bigger tent conservative party that will compete on Prentice’s turf. The rural populist route would allow them to consolidate their base but could turn them into back into the rural rump that they were under Paul Hinman. If they go the other route and take on Prentice by following Smith’s original plan to moderate the party, they may alienate their rural base but they could build in the urban centres to help set them up for future elections.
  • Avoid any “bozo eruptions” from candidates throughout the election campaign.

How have they done?

Brian Jean and his team have run an under the radar campaign. It has been very quiet – especially compared to the Danielle Smith show of 2012. Other than two candidates in Calgary who were promptly punted, Jean has effectively kept his candidates from “bozo eruptions”. Jean himself didn’t exactly wow anyone at his debate (unless you are wowed by mindless repetition of one talking point) but he also hasn’t embarrassed himself. Jean has also been able to provide stability to a party that seemed to be teetering on the verge of extinction. He has done this by effectively focusing on fiscal issues and capitalizing on the opportunity provided by the tax increases in Prentice’s budget. Early in the campaign it appeared that the Wildrose had a legitimate shot of a minority government but their polling numbers have receded back towards the mid twenties.

Grade: B+

Alberta Liberals

What did they need to do?

  • The Liberals have the lowest bar to reach to obtain success but face the largest hurdles to obtain it.
  • David Swann has to outperform expectations throughout the campaign.
  • They need to keep the election from becoming an absolute PC romp or a horse race between either the PCs/WR or PCs/NDP
  • A stronger Wildrose presence would split the right vote and subsequently lower the percentage of vote required to elect a Liberal MLA.
  • They will likely need mistakes from either Prentice or Notley to capitalize on.
  • They need to focus their resources on just a few ridings to maintain their presence in the Legislature.
  • They need to fight back the NDP surge in Edmonton to allow them to retake seats in a future election. The Liberals would be better served with re-elected PC MLAs in Edmonton than new NDP MLAs.

How have they done?

Things have not gone well for the Liberals. They were marginalized early when they could only run a slate of 56 candidates out of 87 constituencies and it has only gotten worse throughout the campaign. The PC/NDP “horse race” has proven devastating as most progressive Liberals have moved to the NDP and what is left behind are die hard Liberals – of which there are very few. David Swann was not able to surprise at the debate by outperforming expectations. He was unable keep the debate from turning into the Prentice/Notley show. They have had little media presence throughout the campaign and will be relying on Swann’s and Blakeman’s personal brands to maintain any presence in the Legislature.

Grade: D-

Alberta’s NDP

What did they need to do?

  • Need to frame election as a choice between PCs and NDP – marginalizing both the Wildrose and Liberals. They have to become the “anyone but PC” option.
  • Need to put Rachel Notley front and centre. She is a huge asset.
  • Party platform needs to have at least a few ambitious party planks to excite their base. They need to learn lessons from Ontario, BC, and Nova Scotia where the NDP tried to “broaden their base” but forgot their base. Particular in Ontario and Nova Scotia, the NDP was outflanked to the left by the Liberals and this alienated many of the party’s traditional supporters and volunteers.
  • Put forward a compelling clean energy strategy that does not demonize oil companies. Many Albertans (particularly Calgarians) see working in oil and gas as a means to provide for their families and do not want those jobs to go away.
  • Present a clear progressive alternative to the tax increases in Prentice’s budget. Don’t allow the Prentice tax increases (ie largely personal consumption taxes/user fees) sour Albertans on progressive tax options.

How have they done?

Despite a tiny campaign budget, the NDP has been able to galvanize Albertans for change. They’ve done it by running an agile campaign that has been able to react quickly to capitalize on the mistakes of the PCs and to also mitigate their own mistakes (budget miscalculation, bad press on Northern Gateway, social media mistake with targeting PC candidates). Rachel Notley has been the star of the campaign and her debate performance was spectacular. She was able to brush off Prentice’s attacks with a smile and effective counter attack when necessary without sounding angry or scary. The NDP didn’t fall into the trap of “tinkering around the edges” like the Ontario NDP did in the earlier campaign – instead, the party has motivated their base by offering an ambitious agenda that is unabashedly NDP. Most importantly, they had the best salesperson for that platform in Rachel Notley.

Grade: A