Close, but not quite: Short reflections on Alberta’s election

“Alberta re-elects the Conservatives” may rank as one of Canada’s more predictable political headlines, but Danielle Smith’s narrow triumph over the NDP’s Rachel Notley was a sharp, polarized and closely-fought win that was far from the lopsided majorities of the old PC dynasty. The UCP will be relieved at retaining office, though much more narrowly than in the past. The NDP will undoubtedly be disappointed after entering the campaign with high expectations – but they won a record share of the vote in the province. Alberta’s politics are changing, and this outcome highlights some trends to watch as the federal parties get ready for the next election:

1.     Changing urban dynamics: The NDP has now sustained its electoral dominance of the City of Edmonton through 3 elections, and is making broader inroads into suburban Calgary, where they gained several seats. Political competition in these cities is increasingly reflected at the federal level, with both the NDP and Liberals making gains in 2021. Will the federal Conservatives’ long-time urban Alberta seats be more strongly contested in the future?

2. Rural Alberta powers the UCP victory: The UCP’s edge in this election came from its dominance of rural and small town Alberta, carrying every seat but two outside of the two big cities. Danielle Smith’s next government will have a much more rural face than the last, with fewer Calgary and Edmonton MLAs to choose from. Will this continue to widen the urban-rural divide in the province? 

3.     Polarization: The clash between Smith and Notley polarized the result in a way Canadians rarely see. The UCP (53%) and NDP (44%) together accounted for almost 97% of all votes cast. No other party won more than 1% of the vote, including the Liberals, Greens and Alberta Party. Between two well-defined competitors, no other voices could break through. Federal campaigns have been more fragmented in recent years, but could the looming race between Justin Trudeau and Pierre Poilievre create similar dynamics?

PAA continues to follow the campaigns and party dynamics across the country, giving insights into the movements underlying election night results. The next federal election is not scheduled until 2025, but in a minority Parliament – notwithstanding the Liberal-NDP Confidence and Supply Agreement – there’s always a strong element of unpredictability. We will be watching and keeping our clients ahead of developments.