Alberta Could Stay Orange 

June 5th, 2015 | R. Rados 

The NDP's historic, sweeping majority may have been the result of a rash, populist wave of fed up casual voters, but that doesn't mean the Notley government is destined for one term. Although it's true that 60% of Albertans don't identify with social democratic ideology, the NDP could keep their grasp on power for well beyond eight years. The way the NDP keeps their grip will depend on how subtle, incremental and careful Notley chooses to be in executing her party's classic socialist policies.

There will be huge pits and massive obstacles standing in Notley's way, but that doesn't mean she'll fail. The hardline views of the Wildrose will keep NDP spending in the spotlight and the age and inexperience of her MLAs will likely produce more scandals and media frenzies in coming years. None of this means that Albertans will lose trust in Notley's government or show up to vote against her in 2019. It'll be tough for the NDP to repeat their victory with 600,000 votes in the next election, but it will be equally difficult for the Wildrose or PCs to motivate voters if Notley appears innocuous. If Notley can implement the NDP's vision slowly and trick enough voters into thinking that her party is not the socialist beast we know it is, there will be no effective conservative revolt to remove her.

If the NDP thinks they are destined for one term, they could try to radically transform Alberta as quickly as possible. That scenario is unlikely, so we should expect a slow and subtle transformation. If the economy shatters and falls apart under Notley's NDP because of negative economic modifications, this could all change and the NDP will collapse in 2019. These are all things Notley and her top federal NDP advisors are aware of. We can bet that they've already drawn out a long term strategy to keep themselves in power beyond 2019.

First Year Amnesia

By year four, most Albertans will have forgotten what happened in year one. As with most new governments, the NDP will try to implement their more contentious policies within the first 18 months of their mandate. This will give voters three years to forget the bad things and put the burden of reminding them on the opposition.

Albertans already know most of what they're in for, like a $15 minimum wage, a corporate tax hike and a royalty review. Notley's plan to implement a $15 minimum wage over three years is not only cautious, it gives her the opportunity to backtrack and rescind her promise if it backfires or has an immediate, negative impact on the economy. What some Albertans might not be expecting is a carbon tax and junk food taxes.

Notley's NDP have already kept Jim Prentice's sin tax increases in place, as well as the PC's gasoline tax hike. They've also started the process of rolling back Prentice's public sector cuts. As a result, they'll be facing a budget shortfall until oil prices rebound, so they'll be looking for ways to make up for it. We can definitely expect what the NDP will call a “carbon pricing scheme” and possible new sin taxes on junk food and other consumer goods.

Digging Their Claws In

Four years is enough time for the NDP to dig their talons into Alberta's skin. They'll do it by slowly and subtly heightening the strength and influence of labour unions. The bigger the unions get, the bigger the NDP's potential for a second term gets. In some municipalities across Canada, public contractors are required to be unionized. If something like this came into existence in Alberta, all private labourers and contractors hired by cities would require union representation. This would mean that any company without union representation would lose municipal contracts, forcing many companies to unionize. Traditionally, the NDP has been the party of choice for unions across Canada. Although this doesn't guarantee votes for the NDP, it guarantees more union resources and foot soldiers working on their behalf.

The political influence of unions helped keep the Saskatchewan NDP in power for more than 16 years, until the electorate finally had enough in 2007. The Alberta NDP will find several convenient and subtle ways to strengthen unions with minor legislative changes.

Public sector employees who are promised consistent increases in perks and salary are also more likely to vote for the party making those promises. No other provincial parties have been as successful as the NDP at increasing government payrolls and workforces. The Alberta NDP's voter base is likely to grow along with Alberta's public sector workforce.

Over the next four years, Albertans shouldn't expect any public sector cuts. They should expect public sector growth. If the economy stays down, we can expect Notley to announce a plan to “create jobs”. Since Edmonton is already an NDP stronghold and a big government town, we shouldn't put it past the NDP to create some of these new government jobs in Calgary.

The New Progressive Umbrella And Vote Splitting

We can expect a lot of provincial Liberals and Greens to unite under the NDP now that they've finally achieved relevance in Alberta. We can also expect a small portion of the old Progressive Conservative base to move underneath this new NDP umbrella. Chances are that a lot of Alison Redford supporters already did so in this last election. The remaining, more centrist and slightly less progressive PC supporters could be neutralized by Notley's deceptive, centrist appearance and end up staying home on election day. 

Judging by historical left-leaning votes, we can safely give the NDP more than 350,000 guaranteed votes in 2019. That number is just a bare minimum. If Alberta's right doesn't choose a single party to support in 2019, that number could give the NDP another slim majority.

The PCs and Wildrose had over 700,000 votes in this last election. That number surpassed the NDP's turnout, but there's no guarantee that general turnout will be as high as it was. This could be a huge problem for Alberta conservatives and libertarians in 2019. It's unlikely that 700,000 voters will show up to oust the NDP – minus some drastic, earth shattering scandal that shakes up the political environment. If only three quarters (525,000) of that 700,000 show up, the numbers still won't be high enough if they're split two ways. Furthermore, whoever arises as the conservative alternative to the NDP will have to win most of Calgary to form a majority government. Thus far, the Wildrose has consistently failed at doing that. But with the PCs significantly reduced and their donors fleeing to the Wildrose, the party's fortunes could finally change in 2019.