Ontario is watching the Alberta election. Maybe not closely—given that it’s spring and the hockey and basketball playoffs are on and our own government has proposed a number of noteworthy policies in recent days. But Canada’s largest province will be impacted by the political and economic performance of Canada’s most affluent one in a whole bunch of ways. As the campaign starts to pick up the pace leading up to the May 5 election, here are five observations on the Alberta campaign from Ontario.
1. We are not glib about Alberta’s economic struggles. There is no scenario where Canada can flourish if Ontario is floundering. And now with Alberta struggling and Ontario still with far more causes for concern than optimism…that is not good. Ontario implores you—please solve your economic woes Alberta. We cannot mount our own comeback without you. (Note: this generosity of spirit does NOT extend to hockey where you have a competitive team in the playoffs and you won the draft lottery. Our best hockey team is on the brink of elimination and the other team is the Leafs.)
2. Wait. How many parties are there in Alberta? We always thought there was really only one. That’s a joke! Well, it’s mostly a joke. But now it turns out there are four competitive(ish) parties. And now we’re hearing that the NDP is surging in Alberta. Read that last sentence again. Things are getting interesting in Alberta politics for the first time since…well since 2012 before the outcome reverted to the norm on election night. But there are signs of a spirited democracy. Good for you!
3. Incumbents always get the benefit of the doubt on fiscal matters. And if fiscal issues are a key voting issue, this should benefit the PCs. Governments develop budgets that are very official—they are informed by legions of civil servants, bank economists and other well-credentialed folks. These experts legitimize a government process that can be effectively turned into a compelling political argument. Opposition parties do not have that advantage. The Alberta PCs are taking a page from the Ontario Liberal and Conservative Party of Canada playbook on this one.
4. Voters typically don’t like hard truths…at least until after the election. The Ontario PC Party ran a “take your medicine” campaign in 2014—and lost. The Ontario Liberal Party runs steady-as-she-goes campaigns—and wins. Four in a row. The difficult choices in Ontario are usually (i.e. always) announced after the election. The Alberta PC fiscal strategy of spending cuts and tax hikes—particularly as an incumbent government—is nothing if not bold.
5. Four-decade-old Progressive Conservative dynasties end eventually. Long before the current mini Liberal dynasty in Ontario, our province was ruled by the PC Party for more than 40 years. Sound familiar? We had our own PC Party juggernaut from 1943-1985. Interestingly, the end to the Ontario PC run happened after a new leader was elected and began to take the party in a different direction.