Alberta Liberals hit by defection as implosion continues; new poll suggests NDP potential for growth

Bridget Pastoor, still a Liberal to the party’s missing webmaster. Below: Raj Sherman.

No one can say the Alberta Liberals don’t have movement. The trouble is, it’s all down hill.

That the slow-motion implosion of the Alberta Liberal Party is gathering speed was evident on two fronts yesterday, as one of the party’s veteran MLAs skedaddled for the government benches and a new poll by Environics Research Group confirmed the party is mired in third place among the province’s opposition parties.

The departure of Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor, 71, was hardly the surprise the media made it out to be. She’s been openly flirting with the governing Progressive Conservatives since early 2009, and like a lot of Alberta politicians of various stripes she was a Conservative before she was anything else.

But the timing of Ms. Pastoor’s floor crossing was dramatic, a symbolic slap in the face of the Liberal leader by freshly appointed Premier Alison Redford, on the first day of Part II of the Legislature’s abbreviated fall sitting almost a year to the day after Dr. Sherman threw a spanner into the Conservative works by getting himself fired as Parliamentary Secretary for Health, kicked out of the Conservative caucus and setting the stage for then-premier Ed Stelmach’s unhappy departure from power.

Back in November 2010, with the province in a tizzy about the state of health care and Dr. Sherman openly lambasting his own party, the part-time Emergency Room doc and Tory MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark seemed like the most popular politician in the province. And while the sun shone last summer and fall, the by-then Independent Dr. Sherman was able to make hay with his popularity – getting himself elected leader of the Alberta Liberals on Sept. 10.

But that was then and this is now. The stumblebum government of Mr. Stelmach has been replaced by a more sure-footed version of the same thing led by Ms. Redford, who was sworn in at the start of October, and Dr. Sherman and the Liberals find themselves in dire straights.

Hugh MacDonald, the seasoned veteran of many Liberal campaigns and effective MLA who challenged Dr. Sherman for the party leadership, has pulled the plug in disgust at the outcome of the weird leadership race, in which the party foolishly allowed anyone to vote, whether or not they were party members.

Liberal MLAs Kevin Taft, Edmonton Riverview, and Harry Chase, Calgary Varsity, had already announced they wouldn’t run again. Back in 2010, Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor quit the party, sitting for a spell as an Independent, then as an MLA for the fledgling and barely noticed Alberta Party. He’ll retire from politics too when the next election is called.

Party staff is scuttling down the hawsers as the Liberal ship settles in the water.

As for Ms. Pastoor, she will run as a Tory in the next election, which, presumably, will fall between March 1 and May 31, according to the fixed-election law promised in this Legislative session by the Redford Tories.

If the latest Environics polling suggests anything, it may be that while Albertans generally liked Dr. Sherman as a rebel Tory, and didn’t mind him as a principled Independent, they’ve grown tired of him as the leader of the Opposition. The slide of the Liberals also suggests that Alberta’s substantial numbers of die-hard Liberals are finally losing interest in their moribund party with the Conservative Dr. Sherman at the helm.

The Environics numbers – which were collected for the Calgary Herald between Nov. 4 and 8, then sat upon by the newspaper until now for some reason – show Ms. Redford’s Tories with a commanding 51-per-cent lead, indicating Albertans are quite satisfied with their government at the end of a tempestuous year.

The province-wide breakdown looks like this:

Progressive Conservatives – 51 per cent
Wildrose Party – 19 per cent
New Democratic Party – 14 per cent
Alberta Liberals – 13 per cent

There’s not much joy here for the Wildrose Party under Danielle Smith, whose fortunes have also fallen with the departure of Mr. Stelmach and the rise of Ms. Redford.

If normal recent patterns persist, you can expect the Wildrose Party to release a poll of dubious provenance in a day or two that shows that party at a higher level and the Conservatives lower, with everyone else in about the same place.

Significantly, however, the Environics results showed Alberta’s New Democrats under the steady old hand of Brian Mason second only to the Conservatives in the Capital Region, enjoying 21-per-cent support in the area.

This suggests that the NDP is the only opposition party with the potential for growth in the present circumstances. Coming into the 2008 provincial election at a lower level of support, they lost two of their four pre-2008 Edmonton seats and held on to Mr. Mason’s in Edmonton-Highlands and Rachel Notley’s in Edmonton-Strathcona.

If their current numbers hold, especially if the Wildrose Party can make a strong showing and split the right-wing vote, it’s realistic for New Democrats to hope to recapture the two seats they lost in 2008 and return to four seats in the Legislature.

If the New Democrats want to move beyond that, however, they are going to have to move their support into the 25-per-cent range in the Edmonton area – a development that is within the realm of possibility with the continued decline of Dr. Sherman’s Liberals.

Since the NDP’s regional advantage around Edmonton plays more strongly at current support levels than the Wildrose Party’s regional advantage in Calgary, it could be a very close contest between the two parties to see which one emerges as the official Opposition.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

9 Comments on "Alberta Liberals hit by defection as implosion continues; new poll suggests NDP potential for growth"

  1. G. MacLellan says:

    D.J., how is it that the potential for growth is only for the NDs? The Liberal demise is likely to help the Alberta Party contend in several ridings, and overtime this could prove difficult for the NDs to grow beyond their existing seats.

    As much as I respect the platform and many of the people involved, I honestly think it is delusional to imagine the NDs as a political power in Alberta. No offense.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Dave, your smoking a hash pipe. ND's r not growing. I am not saying that the Libs are growing either. If you really hung out in the Lib circles, most Libs are NOT lefty minded, they are fairly centrist and RW. They would likely prefer staying where they are than turning orange and losing all any possibility of any political representation. Going ND is political suicide, most ALbertans are not that region. A provincial vote, guarantee, will NOT grow the ND party past its two seats it has. Most centrists, when they participate in these polls don't answer honestly anyway, they would rather cast their ballot anonymously at the polls. You know how this province works, dave, people generally, centrists don't advertise they are lib, for fear of losing livlihood. If you think for a second losing this turncoat is loss of a party, think again. There is a new younger generation that is stepping up to take the calling. So, don't count your eggs before they hatch. I do respect and like the ND mla's, but this vitriol from your article is inconsistent with the goodness displayed by Rachel and Brian. The Energy industry will never side with and work the ND`s because they don`t think the majority of the population would support you guys. So what does it do for democracy and to keep the Tories accountable, if you keep wishing the demise of the most credible opposition thus far against the Tories. Its too early to tell anything. But if you think for a second, losing a few old timers and a few people who are retiring from 15yrs of service, like Hugh is going to mean growth for the ND`s, then its apparent that that hash pipe has been replaced by glue or paint.

  3. Anonymous says:

    "G. MacLellan, thanks for corrborating my stance. Its mere fantasy and delusion to even imagine ND`s as political power. If it could credibly, happen, it would be a good think and I am willing to support any party that can credibly restore checks and balances and democracy here. But agreed G. Mac, it WON`T be ND`s not in 100yrs.

  4. David J. Climenhaga says:

    No offense taken. Theoretically I agree that the Liberal disintegration should help the Alberta Party. But as repeated polls show, the Alberta Party has only registered with the chattering classes and is not even on the radar of ordinary Albertans. The news coverage of the latest Environics poll, the details of which are I could not find on Environics' website, did not even mention the Alberta Party. So it is my opinion that the AP is unlikely to elect a single MLA in the next election, notwithstanding the undoubted abilities of their leader, Glenn Taylor. Could they then survive to succeed in the next election? It seems unlikely.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The unfortunate reality about Liberal vote is that a lot of it breaks to the Tories. Alison Redford and her brain trust are well aware of this, that is why they are throwing on yet another coat of paint on the old P.C. hulk, this one in earth tones and pastels to suck in the lost Liberal tribe. Redford Liepert Danyluk Morton Lukasuk don't quite come off as a caring and sharing bunch however! Defeat the Tory in your neighbourhood by identifying the candidate with the resolve to do the job!

  6. Lou Arab says:

    Gerard,

    Several recent polls have the Liberals at 13% – that's down about 12% from the last election.

    If the polls are taken at face value, about half of that support has migrated to the NDP, with the rest being split between the PCs and the Alberta Party. But that still leaves the Ab Party at about 3% in the polls.

    Furthermore, the Alberta Party has only nominated about 9 candidates so far – so a lot of their supporters are going to be left without someone to vote for on voting day.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The biggest loser with the floor crossing is the Wildrose who are becoming increasingly marginalized as extremist ideologies.

  8. David Harrigan says:

    "Party staff is scuttling down the hawsers"?

    And here I thought I had a reasonable acquaintance with the English language. But I had never heard that phrase! So of course I googled it. There were 9 results

    The first 2 hits were yours. The next 7 were all from various newspapers, talking about Republican officials, Iraqi Government officials, or Wall Street observers.

    Is this some lesson learned in journalism school, right after the interview technique of "Other than that, Mrs. Kennedy, how did you enjoy Dallas?"

    But unlike the ever prolific Anonymous,(Anonymi? Anonymouses? Anynomice?) I didnt find any vitriol in your post. Is is refreshing to see someone reporting the facts, and not the PC/Wildrose horse race we keep reading about.

  9. David J. Climenhaga says:

    In response to David Harrigan: I probably read it as a lad in Treasure Island or something. An impeccable source tells me: "A hawser is a nautical term for a thick cable or rope used in mooring or towing a ship. A hawser passes through a hawsehole" (I'm not making this up, really) "also known as a cat hole, located on the hawse." It was so long ago that I attended Journalism School that the question was always phrased, "Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" I grant you, though, that the date today makes your reference more timely in every sense. We were also taught, of course, to add the phrase "shark infested" before any reference to "waters."

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