January 1st, 2022 | RYAN TYLER

Analysis: What's going on in alberta?

An analysis of where Alberta might be going.
Every Albertan's capacity to forget will be tested in the province's next election. After four years of near economic ruin and debt following an NDP government, Albertans will get to show off how much they remember, how much they care and whether they're willing to give Rachel Notley another chance. It seems not long ago that photos emerged of Notley at anti-oil protests while her various ministers showed public disdain for the engine of Alberta's economy, or showed sympathy for murderous communists like Hugo Chavez. Albertans will either remember all of that, forget it, or show Canadians how much they have changed since the era of Ralph Klein.
New Democrats will describe the changes that have happened in Alberta as progress, but anyone who remembers a debt-free and booming Alberta will beg to differ. To trigger some memories and to get the juices flowing, here are two contrasting photos that show where Alberta has been and where it could be going:
Under the Alberta NDP's four short years, the province accumulated more than $60B in debt. Notley inherited a $12B debt from her predecessors in 2015, but left the province with an estimated $80B debt by 2019. There was a crash in oil prices that began in early 2014, but as RBC's financial analysis shows here, previous governments were able to keep the books more closely balanced. Here is RBC's budget analysis, with modifications to show who was in charge and what was happening:
Alberta's conservative governments, despite their serious flaws, were able to better balance budgets through economic crises. With Jason Kenney as an exception, Alberta conservatives have been able to steer the province through disasters better than the NDP. One of the reasons Jason Kenney is no longer premier is because of his poor management of a major crisis and his disrespect for Alberta's long-standing culture of freedom. With Danielle Smith now at the helm, there is an opportunity for the UCP to restore both personal freedom and strong fiscal management.
However, the next provincial election will have some challenges for the United Conservatives.

The Progressive Consolidation

Alberta's left-wing forces were consolidated under Rachel Notley's NDP. What was once an array of divided liberals, socialists and environmentalists, is now one cohesive unit. After previous Progressive Conservative governments made the mistake of building and strengthening the public sector and its unions, an alignment of messaging and activism started happening. Knowing what they needed to win, union bosses across Alberta began endorsing one party. Activist groups, environmental groups and progressive organizations eventually joined them in their fight.
The seeds for this consolidation were planted in 2012, when unions and left-wing organizations endorsed Alison Redford to stop Danielle Smith's Wildrose. When they succeeded and when Redford defied opinion polls by defeating Smith, they realized they could use the same strategy to finally end the province's conservative dynasty. As divisions on the right grew, unions and activist groups formulated a plan to back the NDP.
By 2015, Alberta's left was no longer divided.
Leading up to the 2015 election, Danielle Smith tried to do what Jason Kenney would eventually do: unite the right. In what can be considered a hasty and poorly planned move, Smith attempted to merge the Wildrose and PC votes by aligning with Jim Prentice and crossing the floor. The plan failed and Brian Jean would become the new leader of a fractured—but still powerful—Wildrose. On election day, the Wildrose and PC votes were split down the middle and the NDP won a majority.
A combination of Progressive Conservative arrogance and an alignment of left-wing forces put Rachel Notley in power, but that consolidation of power, influence and fundraising has only grown since 2015.

The NDP Is More Powerful Now

If fundraising and media influence are any indication, the NDP are in a position to win Alberta's next election. The pandemic divided Albertans into two camps: those who support restrictions and those who don't. Both sides consist of conservatives who passionately disagree with each other. This division has taken us back to 2015.
Without a viable second party to vote for, the pro-restriction conservatives will reluctantly cast a vote for Danielle Smith, or they won't vote at all.
I wrote about the necessity of Danielle Smith's leadership here and about how all of this needed to happen. Albertans will now be forced to make a real choice. They won't have a chance to settle on some pathetic milquetoast candidate who walks down the middle. They either want personal freedom and good fiscal management, or they don't. There is no middle.
If they choose socialism, let them have socialism.
Unfortunately, I am predicting an NDP majority. I want to be wrong, but I think the old PC voters, who fear the virus, have a deep-seated resentment for Danielle Smith and will choose to stay home on election day. The same people who feared her message in 2012 will vote for the NDP. These two segments of the electorate will decide who becomes the next premier.
However, with that said, I don't think all is lost. There is the possibility that Albertans will fear the NDP more than they fear Danielle Smith. The 2019 election saw a massive and historic voter turnout, mostly against the NDP. In the last election, pissed off and angry Albertans came out of the woodwork to turn Rachel Notley into a one-term premier.
This time, conservatives are facing the danger of a low turnout against progressive enthusiasm.

How It Looks Right Now

On the bright side, Danielle Smith is polling higher than Jason Kenney. On the not-so-bright side, she isn't polling high enough. The NDP is building on their 2015 success and their 2019 growth, keeping their 40% share of the popular vote while pushing the edges of 50%. Even though they only took 32% of the vote in 2019, they grew their raw votes from 604,000 to 619,000.
In both Calgary and Edmonton, the NDP has an advantage. Edmonton has always been an NDP stronghold, meaning Calgary could decide the next election.
These are the latest polling averages:
These numbers indicate either a tight race, or an NDP majority. However, if we look at the raw votes from the previous elections since 2012, conservative parties have always held the advantage. These are the average raw votes between progressives and conservatives since 2012:
Even with the more centrist Alberta Party included on the progressive side, conservative votes hugely exceed progressive votes. The danger for the UCP heading into the next election is the collapse of the Liberal and Alberta Party votes, along with a collapse in their own turnout. If Smith can't rally her party's base and Alberta's long-time conservative voters, she won't be able to beat Rachel Notley.
To see what a low conservative turnout might look like, we can look at the 2008 provincial election. In that election, the two conservative parties pulled in only 565,000 votes. We can use that number as the lowest baseline. In the same election, which had an overall turnout of 40%, progressive parties pulled in 375,000 votes.
We know Notley's NDP won't score that low. However, if Smith's UCP scores as low as conservatives did in 2008, the NDP will definitely win. If the UCP scores even lower, it will be an NDP landslide.
Notley's NDP will get a minimum of 600,000 votes in the next election. Unless Albertans across the board have no desire to vote, even for the NDP, that number could be lower—but not by much. Progressives in Alberta have been inspired by Notley's 2015 win and their hatred and fear of Danielle Smith will compel them to vote. The UCP lacks the same enthusiasm at the moment—maybe until memories of what happened under the last NDP regime flood back between now and election day.