After a tumultuous year that saw Danielle Smith become premier, a spring election is on the horizon for Alberta, and it remains to be seen whether Smith will be returned to power or the NDP’s Rachel Notley will triumph as she did in 2015.
One pundit says Calgary will be the deciding battleground.
Smith won the United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership on Oct. 6, 2022, with 53.77 percent of the vote and has had only six months to establish a governing track record. She inherited a party that had become deeply divided, but had previously taken 63 of 87 seats in the 2019 election with 54.88 percent of the vote.
Geoffrey Hale, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Lethbridge, says Smith has succeeded in rallying the party and the base to her side.
“[Low] numbers for Wildrose [Independence Party], and the [shrinking] number of undecideds that we see in polling for small-town Alberta suggests that she has largely connected with that constituency,” Hale told The Epoch Times.
Wildrose, the Liberals, the Alberta Party, and the Greens have polled in single digits for many months, leaving the election a two-horse race. Hale says Edmonton is “death valley” for the UCP, with polls showing the seats in the provincial capital going to the NDP. On the reverse, most of the rural seats are secure for the UCP, according to March 11 projections by polling aggregator 338 Canada, putting much of the decision in the hands of Calgary, where there seems to be more split in support for the two parties.
“The campaign is going to make a big difference, both at the province-wide level and on the ground. There are probably 10 or 12 seats, the majority of which will be in Calgary, a handful of which will be in other places, that are very closely contested and which will determine the outcome of the race,” Hale said.
“Premier Smith has a pathway to re-election,” Hale adds. “It’s not as narrow as it was three months ago, but anyone who’s taking it for granted has been inside a political bubble.”
Hale said Notley’s political instincts make her a formidable challenger who will take every opportunity she has.
“Ms. Notley has been absolutely focused, and her messaging is bang on for what she needs to accomplish to have a reasonable chance of flipping Calgary,” he said.
“The times I go on transit and see the regular orange NDP ads on the transit bulletin boards—and they’re wall-to-wall—they are absolutely consistent with what the polls said they ought to be saying to appeal to the swing vote and win Calgary. They are the issues of reliability and [health-care] staffing.”
On the health-care file, Smith appointed Dr. John Cowell as head of Alberta Health Services in November and tasked him with lowering wait times. Hale said Cowell has made some progress, but whether that progress is substantial enough to sway concerned voters is unclear.
Under Alberta’s fixed election laws, the next provincial election must be held by May 29.