Once the right united, Notley had no chance

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The demise of Rachel Notley’s NDP government in Alberta was not only predictable, but predicted.  Once the Alberta Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties decided that, whatever their differences might have been, they were not worth giving a chance for the New Democrats to survive, it was game, set and match.

Of course, one cannot take anything for granted, least of all victory.  There was never any guarantee that the merger of the right-wingers would automatically translate into the sums of the two ex-parties’ votes, which would have been 52% in the 2015 election – presumably.

That is, of course, leaving aside the fact that a poll by Ipsos at the time found that 33 per cent of Wildrose voters and 19 per cent of PC voters ranked the NDP as their second choice.  The animosity between the two conservative camps was well entrenched.

Yet, since the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose parties merged on July 22, 2017, there has been 41 opinion polls conducted.  The United Conservative Party has lead in all of them, peaking at 36.5% ahead of the NDP in October 2017.

In fact, the NDP was even trailing both the Wildrose party or the PCs before the merger, sometimes both.  The last time New Democrats were ahead was on November 10th, 2015.  It’s been an uphill battle ever since.  The arrival of the Freedom Conservative Party in June of last year, led by rogue UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt, didn’t materialize in a new split on the right.

Now, does this mean that the New Democrats’ historic breakthrough in 2015 was accidental?  Not so fast.  Despite difficult economic circumstances beyond her control, including falling oil prices compounded by forest wildfires, Rachel Notley is not being driven out of town the way Bob Rae was in Ontario after the NDP’s first (and only) term in government in the province.

The UCP’s healthy lead shrunk to single digits in the dying days of the 2019 campaign.  Notley ran a good campaign, an easy contrast versus Jason Kenney’s performance and the multiple bozo eruptions in the UCP slate, under his watch.

The question Alberta New Democrats need to ask themselves now is, was this unavoidable?  It would be easy, as I did at the outset, to say it was.  Indeed, a bit lazy.  There was a path to victory and it wasn’t found, despite Notley’s high personal popularity.

Adopting the same strident frame of Alberta-the-victim was perhaps not the best thing to do, although Alberta New Democrats would argue it was the only thing to do.  Unfortunately, the Conservatives own that frame and the NDP could never complain loud enough to out-compete the UCP in tone against Ottawa and the other provinces.

Still, the NDP has firmly established itself as the only governing alternative to the Conservatives.  It will form a robust, experienced Official opposition, ready to take over in 2023 should Albertans realize the UCP government is not living up to expectations.

Being now the government-in-waiting, after having formed a government that did not bring the apocalypse upon the Wild Rose Country has some hysterically predicted, Albertans now know they can count on someone else to take over.  And perhaps they also now know that having a one-party state, as it was for 44 years under the Progressive-Conservatives, is not democratically healthy.

Photo Credit: Edmonton Journal

More from Karl Bélanger.    Follow Karl Bélanger on Twitter at @KarlBelanger.

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