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Two polls and two byelections signal an interesting spell in Alberta politics ahead

Image via Tyler McCreary/rabble.ca

Two polls were published this week by Mainstreet Research -- one on the state of Alberta politics, the other about British Columbia, where an election is scheduled to take place on May 9 -- and both could have significant implications for Alberta's New Democratic Party government.

On the face of it, Mainstreet's Alberta data looks bleak for the NDP and Premier Rachel Notley -- insofar as it shows the Wildrose Party in the lead among decided and leaning voters province-wide with 38 per cent of the decided vote, trailed by the Progressive Conservative Party with 29 per cent and then the NDP with 23 per cent. The Alberta Liberals and Alberta Party registered, but barely, at 5 per cent each.

A superficial assessment of the numbers certainly goes strongly to the narrative of the unite-the-right crowd behind former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney's bid to lead the PCs, then roll them up and merge them with the Wildrose, that an election with a united party would be a slam dunk for the right. That's certainly how mainstream media played the results, and will continue to play them.

But as Mainstream President Quito Maggi conceded, if you consider the province's evolving electoral map, things may not be so simple. "It would be difficult to anticipate exactly what kind of government would form with these results without knowing the new riding configurations that are expected as a result of redistribution," he observed in the commentary accompanying the poll's results.

The demon-dialler telephone survey of 2,589 Albertans on Feb. 9 and 10 indicates support for Premier Rachel Notley's NDP is very strong in Edmonton -- 43 per cent -- and that's unlikely to change if Kenney keeps making noises on social media suggesting he supports massive cuts to the provincial budget. In Calgary, the PCs lead at 38 per cent with the NDP second. In rural areas, the Wildrose dominates. And we do have a first-past-the-post electoral system here in Alberta.

"The poll results support my argument that rural-based Wildrose has limited appeal big urban cities like Calgary, where the PCs still hold a considerable amount of support," political blogger Dave Cournoyer remarked yesterday. "As provincial electoral districts are redrawn to reflect population growth in urban areas, the Wildrose might need the PC merger more than PCs need Wildrose."

Cournoyer noted on his Daveberta.ca blog that if it's true the NDP has managed to hang onto 26-per-cent support in Calgary, that "leaves room for very guarded optimism for the governing party." Especially if the economy continues to pick up.

I agree, although I would suggest that for the NDP to succeed, the party's strategists would need to run a "Christy Clark campaign" that goes into the corners with elbows up and fully exploits the manifest weaknesses of Alberta's right-wing parties, even if that seems unrefined. The right will certainly be playing the same kind of game.

Speaking of B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Alberta's New Democrats would be just as happy with a victory in B.C. by Clark's cautiously pro-pipeline Liberals as with the much more skeptical B.C. NDP.

But Mainstreet's B.C. poll, released the same day as its Alberta results, suggests the universe may not be unfolding as the Alberta NDP would prefer on the British Columbia front. Indeed, according to Mainstreet, the results the company got from its 2,188 respondents on Feb. 18 and 19 indicate "deadlock and uncertainty" in Canada's westernmost province, which is now entering the pre-election hot zone.

OK, it too was a robo-call poll, and on a weekend to boot, but the results are still interesting, indicating that, province-wide, B.C.'s Liberals are in a dead heat with the B.C. NDP -- 37 per cent to 37 per cent.

The shocker, though, was how well the B.C. Greens appeared to be doing -- 17 per cent province-wide, but 22 per cent on Vancouver Island, traditionally NDP territory, and in rural areas.

So not only does this suggest "an incredibly close race," as Maggi put it, but it would be a tight race with characteristics that are bound to push the already skeptical NDP toward a harder anti-pipeline position that is not likely to do much to help Alberta New Democrats.

At the least, if such support for the Greens holds in future polls, it is bound to encourage the B.C. NDP to move toward the green side of the political spectrum.

Moreover, I suppose you can't rule out the possibility of a post-election NDP-Green coalition in the Legislature, which is probably the worst possible outcome from the Alberta NDP's perspective, or even a Green government.

On the other hand, these results leave the door open to a split vote between New Democrats and Greens, which could translate into a reprieve for the long-ruling Liberals.

Count on it regardless that all parties in Alberta, for once, will be watching the results next door on May 9 with intense interest.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday called byelections in five federal electoral districts -- including former PM Stephen Harper's Calgary Heritage riding and Kenney's former Calgary Midnapore riding. The other three are in Ontario.

Calgary Heritage and Calgary Midnapore are about the safest Conservative seats in Canada, and if that pattern holds true it will support the narrative just the same that Alberta is a conservative place bound to return to political equilibrium soon.

If something unexpected were to happen -- say, a Liberal victory in one of those two places -- it would certainly give the blogosphere and professional political spinners something to make a yarn out of!

It's a lovely thought. But don't hold your breath.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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