After Alberta’s May 5 election there was excited media speculation that the result might reverberate to the benefit of the federal NDP in the upcoming national election. That I doubt. The Alberta result was not a sudden shift in voter ideology. It was voters taking a chance on an acceptable looking alternative to a governing party overdue for the scrap heap. Apart from that, Canadians have long demonstrated that they can keep their federal and provincial drinks separate, whatever the brand on the bottle. The federal Conservatives might want to consider, though, whether there is any lesson for them in a truism demonstrated by the Alberta outcome – that in a democracy a political party which irritates most of the people much of the time is apt to be ousted.
Current polls indicate the spread in popularity of the three major parties in the 2011 federal election has now evened out. The core issue in the impending contest becomes how many voters across the country are seriously disenchanted with the federal Conservatives. Since 2011 their popularity has sunk, but there is little sign that a large number of previous supporters are seriously alienated. I personally watched 12 previous Alberta elections, and in none did I detect the widespread vehement hostility to the government that presaged this year’s vote. I pick up little sign of such an attitude federally. But neither is there widespread enthusiasm for a continued diet of Senate scandals, robocalls, micromanagement, scare mongering, slagging the Chief Justice of Canada, slam attacks on opponents, involvement in petty wars, and intrusive security. Electorally, the Conservatives are now in the doldrums, and continuously ringing the tocsin about terrorism might not suffice to get them out of it.
The 2011 federal election relegated the Liberals to third party status after their worst ever defeat, with Jack Layton and the NDP sprinting past to become the official opposition. The Liberals began a quick rebuild, and their popularity surged from excitement over Justin Trudeau taking the helm. But that swell subsided – Trudeau now seems like a boxer whose handlers keep saying, “The kid has lots of promise, but we’re bringing him along slow.” Up to now he hasn’t seriously dented Harper!
The Alberta election made patently clear that waving the spectre of the red menace affords little help to a right of centre party. Younger generations of Canadians have grown up with the NDP as a routine political presence. Five provinces have had NDP rule. NDP governments have then fallen, sometimes with a later return to power. Although popular support slumped after 2011, there is no sign that the federal NDP is at serious risk of being relegated to its long time “other party” status. With two western provinces now flying the NDP banner, and the two others having done so once and still having the party as the official opposition, Tom Mulcair could well take a serious run at building support out here.
Writer David Haas is a long term St. Albert resident.