Now that the mini-referendum for Jim Prentice is over, let’s study the entrails (disgusting image, I know) to discern the winners and losers of the night.
WINNER: The PCs and Jim Prentice
The other parties will find all sorts of good things to say about how they fared, but this was objectively a bad news night for almost everyone. They will say it was no surprise that Prentice won in a safe Tory seat, and that Stephen Mandel won in Edmonton’s only safe Tory seat. But if voters really want to send a message to a government, they do it via byelection, where you can give the government a firm slap on the wrist and a stern rebuke. For example, when Ralph Klein retired, his old seat went to a Liberal. So, it can happen, and the PC opponents did everything they could to make it happen. While the failures to defeat the Tories in Edmonton-Whitemud and Calgary-Foothills were not entirely unexpected, the margins of victory for the PCs were impressive. The real wins for the PCs were in the toss-up ridings, where Tories were returned. If there was going to be a message sent anywhere, it would have been in those two constituencies. But they won both. So, message sent: all is forgiven, keep up the good work. Sheesh.
LOSER: Danielle Smith and the Wildrose
Is the bloom off the Wildrose? Signs point to yes.
The Wildrose failed to win the toss-up ridings of Calgary-West and Calgary-Elbow. Although they came close in Calgary-West, they came in THIRD in Calgary-Elbow, behind the Alberta Party party candidate. (This is where you may ask: there’s an Alberta Party?) In Edmonton-Whitemud, they trailed the NDP; not a surprise, to be sure, but a disappointment. The Wildrose is having a very hard time making any headway in Edmonton, which does not bode well for their future.
They came close, but at the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Wildrosers may start to privately discuss whether Danielle Smith, who has been the golden girl of Alberta politics, has lost her glow. If you can’t win a byelection against a supposedly unpopular, supposedly out of touch, unquestionably ancient government, when will you win? Maybe Albertans are getting tired of Smith and her attack dog mentality, and her permanently snarling MLAs. At some point, the public starts to wonder if you’re government material, or if you’re better suited to opposition status. The Wildrose is beginning to have that permanent opposition look.
WINNER/LOSER: The New Democrats
The New Democrats, with the always willing participation of the media, will paint Monday night as a triumph. Sure, they didn’t win (didn’t really expect to, they’ll say), but look at the result in Edmonton-Whitemud, where they finished second! Clearly, the NDP dearly wanted to win Whitemud, and a solid second place makes them optimistic for the future. But look elsewhere, and by elsewhere I mean anywhere other than Edmonton. In Calgary, the party remains a joke. Pathetic fourth place finishes in two ridings, and a humiliating FIFTH place in the other. Overall, they garnered a mere 9% of the popular vote. There are positive signs for the NDs in Edmonton, but no pulse at all outside of it. That’s OK with the NDs, really. They are quite content to shore up their Edmonton base and ignore everywhere else.
LOSER: The Alberta Liberals
While the NDs can find reason for optimism, there are no positives for the Liberals. Once upon a time (10 years ago next month, to be exact), the Liberals were the government-in-waiting, the party with the best chance of unseating the Tories. But after unexpected Stelmach tsunami of 2008, and the near-death experience of 2012, the party has become an afterthought. Monday night, they finished third in two ridings, and fourth in the other two.
WINNER/LOSER The Alberta Party
An impressive second place showing by the party leader in Calgary-Elbow (that’s good), and nothing at all elsewhere (that’s bad). But does anybody really care about yet another political party?
There is still plenty of time before the next election, but this mini-referendum on the state of Alberta politics gives a boost to the Tories. The commentators who were writing political obituaries for the PCs may have to revise their narrative. Go figure.