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Today's the day, friends: We're finally at the finish line of the craziest three-way race Alberta has ever seen, and a surprising front-runner has emerged to dominate the polls.
So how did we get to this point in rock-ribbed, conservative Alberta? How exactly does a province that has elected, and re-elected, Progressive Conservative governments for 44 years find itself on the precipice of electing a left-wing New Democrat as premier? If you're scratching your heads, our recent Alberta politics primer is a good place to start, but this already unusual campaign has managed to shift dramatically even in the past two weeks.
During this stretch, Albertans have witnessed the strongest NDP effort of their lives. Led by the charismatic Rachel Notley, who by all accounts won the election's only televised leader's debate, the NDP has surged to historic polling highs in Alberta in rapid fashion, as the chart above shows. The NDP has only been growing stronger by the day and even appears to be drawing support from some former Wildrose Party voters who are eager to back a horse that can finally put an out-of-touch regime to pasture.
As for the far-right Wildrose, their one-note anti-tax message, trumpeted by former federal Conservative MP Brian Jean, has failed to catch fire in the same way that their insurgent campaign did in 2012. However, to the NDP's advantage, the Wildrose appears to be almost perfectly splitting the right-leaning vote with the PCs. At the same time, the predictable Tory fear mongering aimed at portraying the NDP as a radical socialist party has fallen on deaf ears. Along with the imminent demise of Alberta's Liberal Party, that's allowed the NDP to consolidate centrist and left-leaning voters under their big orange tent.
One stunning story illustrates just how bizarre this election has been. The NDP received a last-minute gift from the electoral gods on Friday, when five Tory-connected business executives held a press conference in a penthouse boardroom to attack the NDP's plan to modestly raise the corporate income tax rate. These CEOs even warned that they would stop donating to charitable causes (specifically threatening a prominent children's hospital!) if the NDP were to win. The backlash to this startling, Romney-esque debacle was so severe, it felt almost as if the NDP had scripted the presser themselves. Few parties are blessed to see their opponents immolate themselves with a catastrophe of this caliber.
When planning our election preview coverage, we had initially intended to provide an overview of the top races to watch. But as we approach zero hour, there are very few races where the PCs, who currently hold a commanding 70 of 87 seats in Alberta's legislature, are not threatened—or at least, so it appears.
In 2012, pre-election polls showed wide leads—often double digits—for the Wildrose, which looked set to end the Tories' long reign. But the PCs managed to terrify left-wing voters with the prospect of a Wildrose victory, and many abandoned the Liberals and NDP to vote for the one party that could stop the Wildrose, the Tories. That shift wasn't picked up in the polling, leading to a huge embarrassment for multiple firms when the PCs scored a 10-point victory.
Could it happen again? We can't rule it out, though a replay of 2012 would represent the polling industry's worst disaster of all time in pretty much any country. But in the absence of contradictory information, the PCs appear to be on the verge of destruction, and that renders the idea of bucketing seats into categories like "safe Tory" pointless. Instead, we'll go on a brief geographical tour of Alberta to give you the lay of the land. Head below the fold to join us on this journey.
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