Tories bouncing back from Stelmach effect but Wildrose still poised

With a provincial election all but called, talk has started to shift towards the battles that are going to be waged by the two major political parties in the coming election.

“I think Redford being nominated has helped greatly offset the Stelmach effect,” Anthony Sayers said, referring to how the former premier managed to alienate faithful Progressive Conservative, or PC, voters.

Sayers, a University of Calgary political sciences professor, was at Mount Royal University on Feb. 10 to discuss the pending provincial election. In an hour-long talk, he went over the challenges facing the PCs.

The biggest challenge, he said, is the Wildrose Alliance Party, which was a beneficiary of the Stelmach effect, becoming the leading party in opinion polls in late 2009 and gaining several seats after dissatisfied MLAs crossed the floor in January 2010.

However, Sayers said that Redford’s nomination has given the PCs an opportunity to bounce back and has seen Alberta’s dominant political party of the past 40 years on the precipice.

Describing the budget that was announced on Feb. 9 as being a “pre-election” budget, Sayers was asked by Mount Royal University political science professor Bruce Foster if the budget was the PCs’ way of forfeiting voters on the right of the political spectrum.

“Absolutely,” Sayers said, who pointed out that the Alberta PC party has a habit of using right-wing rhetoric, but more recently has tended to govern with a more centrist standpoint.The Wildrose Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives are set to fight it out in the upcoming provincial election.
Illustration by: Eva Colmenero

He explained that the PC party’s decision to appear to be more centrist with the budget is a way for the PCs to appear more populist, making them more appealing to voters.

Sayers went on to say that the Wildrose Alliance Party has also tried to make themselves more appealing to voters by moving away from more “far right” issues such as gun control, and making their talking points more moderate.

By potentially conceding an entire voting bloc to the Wildrose Alliance Party, the PCs could potentially be putting themselves in danger. Sayers said the budget is not one that appeals to the libertarian right and could influence voters to go to the Wildrose instead

This could turn into a serious issue for the PCs, who haven’t been accustomed to any serious political threats from the right in their 40 years of dominance in Alberta. This, combined with an inexperienced leadership which has “made some mistakes,” could result in problems for the Tories down the road.

Despite both candidates being female, Sayers doesn’t really see gender becoming an issue in this election, as Alison Redford replacing Ed Stelmach as leader of the PCs offsets any sort of appeal Danielle Smith may have had for female voters.

“The right traditionally isn’t very female-friendly,” Sayers said.

He referenced polls from 2008 which saw only 14 per cent of female voters saying they would vote for the Wildrose Alliance Party, compared to the 50 per cent of respondents who said they would vote for the PC party.

The breakdown was a little closer with males, as 33 per cent expressed interest in voting for the Wildrose Alliance Party, compared to 40 per cent of those polled saying they would cast a vote for the Tories.

Of more interest to Sayers was the geographic breakdown between parties. Southern Alberta and rural regions of Alberta has a great deal of support for the Wildrose Alliance Party, while northern Alberta and urban regions in Alberta are more inclined to vote PC.

One attendee asked Sayers about Glenn Taylor, leader of the Alberta party. “I noticed there was no mention,” he said.

“That’s correct. The Alberta Party is going to be a non-factor for this election and will continue to be until Nenshi decides whether or not to get involved with provincial politics,” Sayers said.

“The Alberta Party will be a vehicle for Nenshi.”

tpresiloski@cjournal.ca