If Marie Stelmach is truly as unenthusiastic about her husband’s political career as the rumourmongers report, she may now have a Freedom 55 escape clause built into in her retirement plan.
That is to say, if he even wants to survive as premier of Alberta, Ed Stelmach is going to have to win 55 seats in the next provincial general election.
Fifty-five is just a number, of course. But some arbitrary number very much like 55 is sure to soon become the benchmark that Mr. Stelmach must meet or exceed if he expects to remain in politics, at least as the leader of the Alberta Conservatives.
So it’s written here that 55 is in fact that number – in the minds of both Mr. Stelmach’s supporters and his opponents.
Since Mr. Stelmach is one of Canada’s ultimate political survivors, don’t count him out. Still, with the Wildrose Alliance breathing down the necks of Mr. Stelmach’s still-Progressive Alberta Conservatives in many places, the possibility of significant electoral change in this province appears real for the first time in a generation.
The way Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith tells the story, this means there will soon be a generational changing of the guard, with an overwhelming Conservative majority giving way to an overwhelming Wildrose Alliance majority as the Social Credit government gave way to the Conservatives in 1971 and the United Farmers of Alberta surrendered to Social Credit in 1935.
From Ms. Smith’s perspective, this is a compelling yarn, and she can be forgiven for telling it.
However, it is extremely unlikely that this is the way things will in fact shake out when the next election finally takes place in Alberta. As Ms. Smith must surely know, the principal effect of current voter intentions is likely to be a reduced Conservative majority or, if she’s lucky, a Conservative minority.
Just because a Wildrose Alliance government is probably not in the cards any time soon is not necessarily bad news for Ms. Smith and her party, of course. Indeed, as the leader of a party that has come from nowhere virtually overnight, almost any electoral outcome is good news for Ms. Smith and the Alliance.
Realistically, though, one of the key effects of her challenge, especially if it continues to grow, will be that vote splitting on the right increases the number of seats held by Liberals and New Democrats. As previously noted, any seat that goes to either of those parties in Alberta’s Capital Region, where the Alliance is likely to be weakest, will improve the overall position of the Wildrose Alliance.
Dispirited and confused as the Alberta Liberals now appear, one thing can be said about this party and that is that their floor is solid – no matter how bad things get, there are always about 15 per cent of Alberta voters who will support the Liberals in the polling booth. And 15 per cent in this electoral environment nets the Liberals more seats – possibly in the high teens.
The same electoral math – with or without a fifth party like the Alberta Party in the mix – will likely also send the NDP a couple of additional seats in the Edmonton area.
Sad to say, both parties will likely attribute their improved results to their skills, rather than to a historically anomalous situation in which the right-wing vote is split for a time.
Existing reliable public opinion surveys of Albertans’ voting intentions are all getting a little long in the tooth. (Surely it’s time for a new poll!) But if an election were held tomorrow, an educated guesser might conclude that the province would emerge with a redistributed 87-seat Legislature that looks something like this:
Wildrose Alliance: 23
If such a razor-thin majority is indeed the outcome of the next election, there will be changes at the top of Alberta’s Conservatives. Count on it.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.