Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Same As It Never Was: Alberta Votes 2012

In a stunning turn of events, not much seems to have changed.

Despite almost every poll and media outlet predicting a Wildrose government, and probably a majority government at that, the Progressive Conservatives not only held onto the reins of power, but finished with a commanding majority government yet again.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this, it might be "Don't let the polls dictate how you vote".  Most 'pundits' are giving some of the credit for the Tories' stunning victory to progressive voters who moved from their traditional support of the Liberals and NDP to the PCs in order to head off a possible Wildrose government, in a classic illustration of "better the devil you know..."  This has disappointed a lot of people on the political left, who say the electorate is better off voting for something than against it, and that this election ended up being about the triumph of fear over anger; fear of a Wildrose government trumping the anger over  PC mismanagement and arrogance.

There are a couple of other possibilities though, the most intriguing of which (to me, at least) is that this election may reflect a de facto acceptance of Alberta as a single party province.  

Alison Redford's unexpected leadership victory was achieved with overtures to nurses, teachers and mums, and garnished liberally (!) with the promise of change from 'business as usual' politics.  She reflected a significant divergence from the 'Old Boys Club' in many ways, and the subsequent departure of many of these old boys, either by quietly retiring or, in the case of fiscal hawk and leadership rival Ted Morton, by getting ousted from his seat, only makes the contrast between the old and the new PC party even more distinct.

By moving her party closer to the centre, a position left vacant since the Ralph Klein years, Redford broadened her appeal to include a big chunk of the Undecided, those who would normally support the left and centre left, and many who didn't even bother to cast a vote last time around.  If CBC is correct in their story and "57% of Alberta voters cast ballot" compared to the miserable 40% who did so in 2008, then we are looking at an incredible increase in voter engagement, which can only bode well for democracy in general.  Consider this comment from WindsorKnot in response to that story:

57% in 2012 up from 40% in 2008. Explains a lot. 
Helps one to understand why the moderately or centrist positioned PCs did so well over their more right-wing or radical opponents. The more people vote, the greater the appeal to the political centre. A truism in yesteryear. A truism now. 
Explains how in years past, when Canadians did vote in large numbers, why politics was dominated by big-tent parties, fluid in their approach to problem solving, pragmatic rather ideological in platform, and moderate in governance. We were better governed in the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s. Why? For starters, we had a wider pool from which to choose our political leaders. As an added bonus, more people held them to account. 
Also explains why the pundits and pollsters got it so wrong. They're use to talking to a minority who is politically engaged and ignoring everybody else. When everybody is involved, the political ground becomes fluid and responsive to people's concerns. Spin doctors have less influence.
There were very few complaints about the parliamentary system when everybody voted. It really does work best when the electorate is actively engaged. The first lesson we should be teaching in high school civics class is a simple one: when the time comes, get out and vote!

An astonishing 72% of the electorate showed up when the Social Credit party lost to Peter Lougheed's Tories back in 1971, upsetting one dynasty to initiate their own, but there was no internet back then, so what else could people do with their time?

There are those who disparage strategic voting as both cynical and ineffective, claiming that democracy is best served when people vote for the candidate or party which best represents their own views.  But on the other hand, a person who voted Liberal last time around but cast his vote for the NDP this time hasn't necessarily abandoned their principles so much as shifted them slightly, and in doing so, may effect a greater change, as happened in Edmonton-Calder where David Eggen upset a formidable PC opponent.  Perhaps this might be better referred to as tactical voting; I'm not sure.

Some of the people who voted for the Redford Progressive Conservatives (and hasn't it been a while since we heard so much emphasis on the p-word portion of their name?) might have done so out of fear, but there are undoubtedly those who supported her out of hope, who are saying, "wait a minute, let's see what she does next..."  Even Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman said, "The Tories owe us big time.  I hope they remember this."

I hope so too. 

Even more, I hope those voters haven't been duped, and that party insiders don't use the residual fear collected over the campaign to oust Redford in some sort of 'Night of the Long Knives' scenario.  Former Premier Ed Stelmach brought in a huge majority government and also passed a critical 'Leadership Review', but still felt pressured to go after only one term in office; I hope Ms. Redford fares better.

In the meantime, despite my still never having voted for the PCs, I fully intend to buy a Tory membership the next time there is a leadership race. Because in a single-party province, that will probably be the single best opportunity for me to have a say in who my Premier is.

1 comment:

  1. Strategic voting is an excellent argument for changing our voting system from First Past the Post to something more along a proportional system. See, for example, this great video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Y3jE3B8HsE (and the related ones) produced by C.G.P. Grey in the run up to the UK's recent referendum on their voting system, tied in with their last election.

    Ironically, if you vote for the PC leadership, you get to use an non-First Past the Post voting system,