Alberta goes to the polls today, where the long-reigning Progressive Conservatives risk losing power. Here are five key moments in the election campaign.
Look in the mirror
PC Leader Jim Prentice was trying to make a point. Instead, he made a lot of Albertans turn an angry hue of red.
It happened prior to the election, when Mr. Prentice was asked about Alberta’s crippled economy during a CBC Radio interview. He responded by saying Albertans need only “look in the mirror” to understand why the province was grappling with a serious budget shortfall.
After picking their jaws up from the floor, Albertans took to mainstream and social media to harangue the living daylights out of Mr. Prentice. Roughly 100 people protested outside the Alberta Legislature carrying – what else? – mirrors. “So we can show the people in that building who the real culprits are,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Mr. Prentice got all the messaging loud and clear. Days later at a Manning Centre Convention in Ottawa, he thanked the audience for “that warm welcome. It’s a warmer welcome than I’ve received on social media the last couple of days.”
The fallout continued in Edmonton when Tory MLAs were asked about the mirror flap and replied they had not heard a word about it. That set up NDP Leader Rachel Notley for an easy knockdown: “I think we’ve suddenly had a level of tone deafness descend upon the premier’s office that is somewhat unprecedented.”
The mirror matter came up during the election campaign as an example of Mr. Prentice and the Tories losing touch with the populace. Alberta Party leader Greg Clark dubbed it, “Mr. Prentice’s Alice in Wonderland moment because it’s only in some alternate reality that the blame for decades of PC mismanagement can be placed squarely on Albertans.”
Look in the rear-view mirror
Legendary baseball player Satchel Paige once said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
While campaigning near Rocky Mountain House, Mr. Prentice and his staff were riding along in the team bus when it was suddenly hit from behind. Doing the hitting was an SUV driven by a member of Mr. Prentice’s security squad.
The driver was taken to a nearby hospital for a checkup and was otherwise fine. No one else was injured.
The RCMP was called to the accident scene and decided that dust from the gravel road the two vehicles were driving on may have been a factor.
Conspiracy buffs eyed a post-crash photograph and questioned why the bus was facing in one direction, the SUV in another. Had the photo been doctored? Was there a second SUV behind the grassy knoll?
As a minor accident, this one got a lot of mileage.
That darn budget
The pre-election budget announced by Mr. Prentice drew varied responses: business leaders thought it was tough but fair while public sector workers argued it was harsh and imbalanced.
Albertans were told they would have to pay more for liquor, cigarettes and fuel. User fees went up, too, while there was no increase in taxes for corporations.
But it was the cut in the charitable tax credit that really irked people.
Mr. Prentice took a verbal lashing for cutting into the 21-per-cent tax credit for charitable donations over $200. The new budget said the tax credit would be dropped to 12.75 per cent. Albertans gave Mr. Prentice such a stinging rebuke he scrapped the rollback, selling it as his way of listening to the voters.
What wasn’t touched was the 75-per-cent tax credit for the first $200 donations made to political parties. The credit drops to 50 per cent for donations between $201 and $1100.
“It’s hard to admit when you’re wrong,” said Mr. Prentice, “but it’s also important to know when to do so.”
The numbers didn’t add up
It was a miss here and a miscalculation there and, before they knew it, the New Democrats had a multibillion-dollar hole in their proposed budget. How did it happen?
Ms. Notley didn’t go into detail as to how the figures could be so off. Apparently, someone overlooked “growth pressures,” a rather nebulous response that also didn’t answer what type of formula was used for calculations. (It may have been the Jethro Bodine gazinta method: two gazinta four two times.) The mistake meant the NDP would not be offering a balanced budget in 2017 as advertised. Derek Fildebrandt, the Wildrose candidate for Strathmore-Brooks, served as the former Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation. He has examined budgets for years and is pretty good with numbers.
Mr. Fildebrandt said both the PC and NDP “are spending more than they take in and adding billions in new debt.” He added that his party would balance the provincial budget by 2017.
During the televised leaders’ debate, there was back-and-forth banter between Mr. Prentice and Ms. Notley over whose budget was better. At one point, Mr. Prentice said to Ms. Notley, “I know math is difficult.”
That comment replaced “look in the mirror” as flogging material. At best, it came off as condescending; at worst, it was sexist. Not surprisingly, Mr. Prentice got another warm welcome on social media.
As for handling her budget gaffe, Ms. Notley borrowed a few lines from her PC counterpart by telling the Edmonton Journal: “The measure of leadership is how you deal with it when mistakes are made, and our decision was to advise people right away.”
The party that won’t go away
Even before eight of their members crossed the floor and joined the PCs, the Wildrose party had been compared to a pack of zombies. You can understand why: just when you think they’re gone, they return.
Even when their previous leader Danielle Smith crossed to the other side, the Wildrose didn’t crumble into a heap. They kept on coming, kept invading neighbourhoods and knocking on doors.
With Calgary lawyer Brian Jean as its leader, Wildrose refused to let the NDP and PCs pull away in the polls, especially with those polls showing a weighty number of undecided voters ripe for the picking. Mr. Jean figured the best way to get his share of those voters was to repeat his party’s platform statement: Wildrose will not raise taxes. Front-line jobs will not be cut, the waiting times at hospitals will be reduced and, as he said over and over, Wildrose will not raise taxes.
Just days before the election, Mr. Jean issued a warning that if the NDP won a majority government there would be “a devastation in our economy … our oil and gas sector and natural resource sector will set back our province quite a ways.” He also had fearful words if the PCs won. “I’m seriously frightened about either option,” he said.
As for his future plans, Mr. Jean pledged to “root out the stench and rot” of the Tories 40-plus years as a ruling government.