The Alberta PC dynasty is over. The longest successful run by a political party in the history of Canada ended after 43years 7 months at approximately 8:40pm May 5th, 2015. There has been plenty already written about what happened & why, but most of those missed or greatly diminished some the key events that led Albertans to mark their X on their ballots for someone other than a PC candidate as so many had in the past. Here is my take.
A little history. When Alison Redford resigned as Premier in March 2014 the PCAA was in trouble. Plagued with scandal, trust issues and broken promises, the leaderless PCAA was polling at 19%, well less than the Wildrose at 46% and just barely ahead of the NDP at 15%. The PCAA needed help bad, they needed a 'white knight' to restore what Redford had destroyed and that help arrived in the form of Jim Prentice. Even before officially announcing his run for the party leadership most of the PC caucus had publicly come out to endorse him; front runner Ken Hughes ended his bid for leadership and expected challengers such as former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel said they would not enter the race against Prentice. A token leadership race was held where Prentice promised to fix his own party and correct the mistakes of the past and as expected he emerged as party leader with a whopping 76+% first ballot win on September 6th, 2014. The PCAA was going to bank on the former federal politician and CIBC executive to try and save their party; and it worked. In October of 2014 the PCAA was back on top of the polls and Albertans were ready to give him a chance to see what he could do in the 19 months remaining in the mandate and this support was clearly demonstrated in the 4 by-elections held October 27th where Prentice and 3 other PCAA candidates handily won their races. It was also the beginning of the end.
Without access to Jim Prentice's brain it is unclear when exactly he decided that he was going to call a general election in the spring of 2015. I suspect it was already in his mind at the time of by-elections but if it was not, the 4 by-election victories certainly helped him make that decision; what followed next would cement it.
On December 17th, 2014 nine opposition Wildrose MLAs including party leader Danielle Smith crossed the floor and joined the PCAA caucus after secret discussions which had been going on since before Prentice had even officially entered the leadership race. At the time Prentice was hailed as a genius by many in the press. Machiavellian they wrote as he had hobbled the strongest opposition that Alberta had seen in years and any immediate anger over the crossings would be directed towards Danielle Smith and not land at his feet, and an election, when called would surely be in the bag with a united 'right'. The reality was though that this move did not unite the right, and in fact did the opposite. For Wildrose supporters it was a realization that their movement was about more than 1 person (Smith) and once the feeling of the betrayal subsided they got back to work and resolved to rebuild the party to make it stronger than ever. For PC supporters there were many who could not accept what their leader had done by accepting those that crossed and this reaction was immediate when the PCAA executive announced that the floor crossers would have to face nominations contrary to what Prentice had promised creating a rift within his own party. As for the general public the saw the Wildrose as an effective opposition who had kept the huge PC majority in check for years and viewed this move by both Prentice and Smith as opportunistic and dirty. This was not a make or break move with the electorate as the PCAA
remained high in the polls but it gave them a glimpse at the real Jim
Prentice who was not below playing the same cynical political games of his
predecessors even though he was supposed to be different.
The run up to the election saw more missteps. As stories of mismanagement from the past appeared, Prentice's go to excuse of 'that was the previous gov't and before my time' was wearing very thin with Albertans and even more so when he told Albertans to "look in the mirror" as to who was to blame for the crisis which was due to PC gov't failures. He ordered an 'independent legislative committee' to go back and reverse a decision to give more funding to the auditor general citing that there was 'no more money' while stories of buying 80" televisions and secret contracts giving millions of dollars to PC associates were making headlines. Stories of shenanigans within PC nominations including allegations of bribes, lawsuits and PC insiders fixing nominations flourished hurting the grass roots of the PCAA and solidifying the dirty nature of PC politics with the electorate. He laid the groundwork for what he called a once in a generation budget even going on television spelling doom and gloom to try and sell Albertans only to deliver a middle of the road budget that could have easily have been from Redford or Stelmach; a budget that nobody was really talking about a week into the election other than the reversal he made to reduce the deduction for charitable contributions. None of which were fatal on their own but all added to the already long list of reasons why voters were to about reject him and his party within months.
The fatal blow came on April 7th, 2015 when Prentice advised the Lieutenant Governor to call an election for May 5th, 2015. This was the straw that broke the camels back if you will among the Alberta electorate as it summed up everything that was wrong with the PCAA. It was unnecessary & unasked for as there was 1 yr left on the mandate. It was expensive at a time when Prentice said there was no more money and we had to cut back. It was potentially illegal as it violated the fixed date law and enforced the 'laws apply you but not for me' arrogance we have all seen for years from the PC's. It was unfair and seen as underhanded after what he had done to the opposition Wildrose who were forced into a rushed leadership contest and whose new leader had just lost his son only weeks before.
Albertans saw Prentice's election move for exactly what it was; an opportunistic vanity election aimed solely at retaining power for Prentice and the PCAA. Not many outside Alberta have an idea how just how unpopular his decision to call an election was. It was the issue that everyone talked about not only at the doors but in offices and homes and it did not go away as Prentice was still defending his decision the eve before the vote. The election itself became THE election issue. Albertans are fair minded people and they gave Jim Prentice a chance not only to fix his own party but also to run the province. The moment that Prentice walked to the Lt-Governors office to ask for an election he squandered all of the trust and faith that Albertans had given him. Albertans knew, for all of the reasons above and more, that Prentice and the PCAA did not deserve re-election. The only question left was who were they going to vote for.
The campaign itself and the piles of money which the PCAA spent on ads to sway the electorate had little or no effect. There would be no succumbing to fear and holding ones nose and voting PCAA at the last minute this time around as the election was really over before it started. ( Odd fact: The first time the NDP led the PCAA in any poll in years ( perhaps since 1971?) was a poll taken Apr 1-6th (the day before the election call) and the NDP have led ever since)
There is lots to discuss about why the electorate went towards the NDP, other than to say that reasons for both the fall of the PCAA and the rise of the NDP lay at the feet of Jim Prentice, I will leave that discussion up to others.