Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Alberta InDecision '08: Just What the Fuck Happened?

Alberta Tories defy expectations, pull off improbable landslide

If one believed the poll numbers, the vocally disgruntled Progressive Conservative voters, the opposition parties and the labour unions, one would have thought that, yesterday, Ed Stelmach's governing Tories were in for an unpleasant surprise.

Instead, it was the allegedly growing legions of opponents of the government that got the surprise, as Ed Stelmach and the PCs claimed a stunning 73-seat majority government.

The provincial Liberal party -- who made a point of repeatedly announcing that they were out to win -- found themselves reduced from 16 seats to nine. The NDP fared even more poorly, winning a mere two seats in the legislature.

With the polls favouring them, another PC government is no big surprise. However, with the political momentum being clearly against them, such an overwhelming majority (one seat short of Ralph Klein's biggest majority) absolutely should not have been in the cards.

So what happened?

Well, first off, the Liberals and NDP, collectively, ran the same-old same-old campaign. While rolling out a few promising policies, they focused mainly on negative campaigning, whether on their own or through proxies.

Collectively, their campaign fell just short in terms of sanctimony of the "Ralph Klein is the devil" campaign they essentially ran in 2004.

Beyond that, it stands as support that Alberta's opposition parties just don't learn, and they've internalized their inability to learn on very deep levels.

When Kevin Taft lost the 2004 election, he essentially responded by writing Democracy Derailed, which accused the provincial Tories of undermining democracy in the province. That's why the Liberals can't win in Alberta. Not because their ideas and policies don't appeal to the Albertan electorate, but rather because democracy has been undermined. By the villainous Tories. Right.

While a few aspects of Alberta's democratic system certainly are in need of a tune-up (the selection of returning officers to name just one example), for Taft to scapegoat the system for his inability to win is simply way too far off the mark.

Of course, there is one other factor, and it's an important one.

Alberta's positively depressing voter turnout seems to have reared its ugly head again. Early estimates suggest that perhaps as few as 40% of registered voters actually showed up to cast ballots.

One can't help but wonder how many Liberal, New Democrat and Wildrose Alliance voters decided to stay home out of the hopelessness deeply ingrained in so many opposition voters. If they had shown up, one can only wonder what could have happened.

Perhaps yesterday's Alberta election could have been the starting point for long-term change in the province.

Perhaps Alberta's opposition parties will have to search for a new way to make that happen.

In the meantime, Stelmach's landslide victory has left a lot of people scratching their heads, wondering, "what the fuck just happened?"

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