The Alberta election results in early May shocked people across the country leading some to wonder if a similar result could be replicated during a federal election in October.
Alberta has always been a fortress for Conservative politicians with the past four decades having held power. At the federal level, the Conservatives (under varying names) have held the majority of the seats in the province for the past 56 years. During the 2011 federal election, the Conservatives won 27 out of 28 seats, and with 6 more seats being added into the mix this year, many pundits believe that a Conservative clean sweep of all 34 ridings is not out of the question.
That all changed on May 5, when an NDP “Orange Chinook” blew across Alberta, sending Rachel Notley to the Premier’s office with a majority, and the PC’s into a tailspin landing in third place.
Provincially, the NDP swept through Edmonton, took a large portion of Calgary, and picked up substantial support in smaller urban centres such as Lethbridge and Red Deer, and even a seat or two in the more rural areas of the province. Translating that support, however, at the federal level might be a significant challenge outside of the two main centres – Calgary and Edmonton. Here is why.
Looking at the provincial election results map, the once solid blue landscape in Calgary is now covered in orange. This map shows an overlay of the provincial Calgary ridings (smaller, separated by white lines) and the federal Calgary ridings (bigger, separated by black lines.) At first blush, it looks like the federal Calgary MPs – including Mr. Harper himself, who represents Calgary Southwest (renamed Calgary-Heritage for 2015) – should be worried about the support of their base. But do the results of the Alberta provincial election really mean that federal Conservative MPs in Calgary should polishing off their resumes?
As shocking is the map looks, the answer would be no for two reasons.
- Vote splitting at the provincial level
- Vote splitting at the federal level
In the May provincial election, the Alberta NDP rode the perfect storm.
Vote splitting on the right between the PCs and Wildrose, plus the collapse of Liberal support, gave the NDP a majority government, winning seats they never expected in their wildest dreams – like in Calgary.
Meanwhile, at the federal level the vote split takes place primarily on the left. The federal Liberals and federal NDP would end up splitting many of the votes the provincial NDP took, with much of the Wildrose and PC support falling in behind the federal Conservatives. So despite the newly orange ridings in Calgary, it does not look like Mr. Harper and his fellow Calgary MPs will have to worry about being unseated by the NDP.
While vote splitting favours the federal conservatives in Calgary – what about Edmonton? Occasionally called “Redmonton”, Alberta’s capital was swept completely by the NDP in the provincial election. If there are cracks in “Fortress Alberta” for the federal Conservatives, Edmonton is where they will originate.
Assuming no voter changes party support, all the Wildrose and PC voters would – we assume – cast a ballot for the federal Conservatives. Looking at the Alberta Liberal and NDP votes, we used threehundredeight.com’s electoral polling model and divided the provincial votes for the Left between the federal Liberals and the NDP on the basis of how their support is projected to be split.
For context, let’s look at the margins of victory the Conservatives would have won these Edmonton ridings by in 2011. Outside of the one NDP victory (which they took by 13%), the margins of victory ranged from 15% to 61%. A 61% difference between a first and second place candidate is almost unheard of in Canada – unless of course you move into rural Alberta, where it is the norm.
And now, the projected results…..
- Edmonton Centre – Liberals 47.5%, NDP 28.4%, Conservatives 24.1% (This is former Liberal Anne MacLelland’s seat – has gone Liberal in the past – but the third place finish would be concerning)
- Edmonton Griesbach – NDP 59.4%, Conservatives 21.5%, Liberals 19.1% (Ouch! Well it does border on Linda Duncan’s riding)
- Edmonton Manning – NDP 46.4%, Liberals 29%, Conservatives 24.6% (0 for 3 for the Conservatives)
- Edmonton Mill Woods – NDP 38%, Liberals 32%, Conservatives 30% (A very close three-way race that would break in favour of the NDP
- Edmonton Riverbend – Conservatives 35.7%, Liberals 35.6%, NDP 28.8% (A 0.1% Conservative victory – and almost definite recount for James Rajotte)
- Edmonton Strathcona – NDP 70.3%, Conservatives 22.5%, Liberals 7.2% (NDP MP Linda Duncan is headed back to Ottawa with one of the largest majorities in the province)
- Edmonton West – Conservatives 38%, Liberals 33.5%, NDP 28.5% (A Tory hold on a seat they would have won in 2011 by 45%)
- Edmonton-Wetaskiwin – Conservatives 45.2%, NDP 31.7%, Liberals 23% (Mike Lake returns to Ottawa with a somewhat comfortable plurality)
- Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan – Conservatives 51.9%, Liberals 24.8%, NDP 23.4% (As we move away from downtown Edmonton, the Conservative strength grows)
- St. Albert-Edmonton – NDP 31%, Conservatives 30.9%, Liberals 30.4%, Independent 7.7% (What? Independent. Yes, this is Brent Rathgeber’s riding, the Tory turned Independent. What would have been a comfortable Conservative win now ends up in the NDP column in the tightest three way race in the city)
Final totals – NDP 5, Conservatives 4 and Liberals 1, and Fortress Alberta begins to crack and crumble. With over five months between now and the next federal election, it is difficult to say with certainty that the provincial results will have a substantive impact on the federal results. However, the larger lesson here is that no party should take their base for granted.