A photo of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
A spectre is haunting Alberta … and it’s still Jason Kenney. Credit: Alberta Newsroom / Flickr Credit: Alberta Newsroom / Flickr

So what is this, already? The spring of hope or the winter of despair? Two months ago, tout le monde progressive Alberta was high on the certainty that the next provincial election would be the NDP’s with a snap of the fingers.

A few good polls will do that to people.

As awful as Jason Kenney was – is, actually, in case you missed it he’s still the premier – the next Alberta election in 2023 or whenever it gets called was always going to be a tough fight.

A slam dunk for the NDP was never going to happen. Conservatives have ruled Alberta for almost 47 of the past 51 years, 87 if you count Social Credit as conservative – which it wasn’t really, but close enough for government work.

Do you think that after all that they lacked deep roots in Alberta communities? Do you think they’d forgotten the lay of the land just because they imported Mr. Kenney as their latest saviour from down east, Calgary MP though he may have been, a practice that has a recent history of not working all that well for Alberta conservatives?

Well, bless our souls, Kenney has gone and said he’s about to resign, there’s been a poll that puts the UCP back into the lead, and Doug Ford’s Conservatives have been re-elected in Ontario.

So suddenly we’re all channelling Charles Dickens and it’s the winter of despair? 

Do you think Alberta hasn’t changed in the 51 years since the pretty moderate and progressive Conservative Peter Lougheed was elected back in the fall of 1971? 

Why do you think Alberta’s self-declared proudly redneck class is fuming so hysterically, trying to foment a separatist movement, and disappearing down a Q-adjacent rabbit hole faster than you can say Donald J. Trump?

They sense that the NDP election in 2015 wasn’t just a fluke, that it had deeper roots in the way Alberta has changed. They’re afraid they’re losing control – and, a bit at a time, they are. 

So if the NDP can keep their wits about them – and I suspect they will, their leader Rachel Notley is a former premier who is reasonably cool under fire and capable of learning from her past mistakes – they too have a real chance to return to power next year, or whenever the election is called. 

Remember, as noted above, Kenney is still the boss, and he’s known as Mr. Bumbles for a reason. If there’s a way he can mess things up, he’ll certainly try. 

Plus, there’s a UCP leadership race to be run and the stakes are high. So it’s likely to get ugly. 

The party establishment that’s chosen Travis Toews as the best man to paper over the UCP’s differences and keep the Frankenparty looking respectable with duct tape and spirit gum for one more election cycle aren’t necessarily going to get their way. 

Toews, an accountant with soft hands and a couple of nice city suits in his closet, isn’t going to satisfy all the rural right-wingers who gathered around Fort Mac’s Brian Jean to help the former Wildrose leader bring down Premier Kenney. 

Jean is not going to go easy into that dark political night. 

There is also Danielle Smith, the other former Wildrose leader, sometime radio talk show host and chloroquine promoter, not to mention whoever else lines up for the race, just to keep things hysterical. 

By the time it’s settled, the new leader will have revealed his or her feet of clay. 

That’s one problem the NDP doesn’t have with Rachel Notley – a proven leader and no dummy – firmly in command and a well-disciplined caucus. 

Meanwhile, Kenney’s army of social media trolls – many of them political staffers paid from the public purse – have started reverting to form after a few weeks of behaving themselves. It’s getting ugly out there because they’re feeling a bit like it’s the winter of despair too. 

And the province’s health care system? In case you stopped paying attention to feel sorry for yourself, it’s still falling apart. There are documented cases of people who have died because of delayed ambulances. Surgeries are still being cancelled. Nurses and doctors are still in short supply.

The school curriculum that’s universally despised? It’s still on track to be implemented too. 

Yeah, the UCP has money to throw at problems again – but even their own supporters must be starting to wonder how long that will last. 

You can say what you like, but I wouldn’t put my own money right now on an election victory by either the UCP or the NDP, although I’m pretty confident none of the other parties will play much of a role this time. 

This was always going to be a hard race with a close finish. 

There are going to be many more polls.

I don’t yet see anything to suggest all that much has changed.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...