Danielle Smith and Rachel Notley have just one more week to convince voters to support their respective parties in Alberta’s 31st general election and, after nearly a month of campaign promises, political observers expect the debate over stability will dominate the final days.
The United Conservative Party’s campaign, under Ms. Smith’s leadership, has survived a series of scandals that would normally prove fatal. Meanwhile, Ms. Notley’s New Democratic Party, while on track to make significant gains, has been unable to quash doubts about its fiscal prowess.
The result: a political stalemate. And so because tangible promises like arenas and family health teams have done little to move the needle, observers expect Ms. Smith and Ms. Notley to focus on perceptions this week.
Albertans vote May 29 and there are enough undecided voters in Calgary that the outcome is too close to call. The province’s largest city is generally conservative with a progressive tint, and despite the pockmarks in the UCP’s campaign, observers believe it will be more difficult for Ms. Notley to lure voters than Ms. Smith.
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The NDP needs to play up the idea that it will provide “predictability and stability,” according to Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean, a political commentator in Strathmore, Alta. “That’s something that will actually reach conservative voters who are concerned.”
When making this argument, the NDP should resist the temptation to jump on Ms. Smith’s history of shifting policy positions and unconventional statements, she said. Instead, the party should promote Ms. Notley’s “conservative disposition” during the NDP’s time in office, when “they weren’t in there ripping up government,” Ms. Mitchell-MacLean said.
Conversely, the UCP should continue its attack line that Ms. Notley can’t be trusted with the economy, she said. “That’s an easy win for them. It is something that has been wildly internalized by conservative voters.”
Sarah Biggs, a strategist with Olsen + Biggs Public Affairs, said the NDP needs to better make the case for its plan to increase corporate taxes to 11 per cent from eight per cent. The increase, she cautioned, could push tax revenue down as major companies scour legislation for loopholes.
“They are creating a new roller coaster,” Ms. Biggs said.
Ms. Biggs, who managed Leela Aheer’s failed bid for the UCP leadership, said Ms. Smith would be wise to follow the same campaign strategy that got her through May. However, Ms. Biggs thinks a public show of strength would benefit the UCP this week.
Big campaign rallies have not been part of the UCP’s playbook in this campaign, but with voters waffling in Calgary, a couple of healthy rallies could signal momentum.
“If they want to show how strong they are, very often rallies are a demonstration of how much support you get,” Ms. Biggs said.
The UCP campaign has been marred by a series of missteps and the party’s slide to the right.
Alberta’s ethics commissioner last week released a report that concluded Ms. Smith, as premier, interfered in the justice system in an effort to make charges against a street preacher arrested for his role in the Coutts border blockade go away. A video emerged of her comparing people who got vaccinated against COVID-19 to those who supported tyrants, directly referencing Adolf Hitler.
Ms. Smith last week said one candidate who compared transgender children to feces would not be permitted to sit with the UCP caucus, should she win her seat. The next day, Ms. Smith said Jennifer Johnson, the candidate in Lacombe-Ponoka, could join the UCP caucus if she redeemed herself. The UCP’s candidate in Calgary-Fish Creek, Myles McDougall, last week apologized for racist comments he spread on social media, but the party took no action. In April, UCP candidate Chelsae Petrovic issued a blanket apology for unspecified instances in which she may have offended people.
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These types of blunders have made moderate and progressive voters – and some UCP incumbents and rookie candidates – uncomfortable. Ms. Smith did not ban Ms. Johnson from joining the UCP caucus until Ric McIver, a conservative stalwart and UCP incumbent, publicly criticized his colleague.
Ms. Johnson, Mr. McDougall and Ms. Petrovic are aligned with Take Back Alberta, the coalition of libertarian and social conservatives pushing the UCP further to the right and challenging establishment politicians within the UCP. TBA’s ties to Ms. Smith worry some within her own party, although last week she insisted her team is moving in lockstep.
“We are more unified as a caucus than we’ve ever been,” Ms. Smith told reporters after a debate last week. “I just have the best caucus team.”