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Alberta's Most Competitive Election Yet: An Analysis of Campaign Strategies and Policies of the Leading Parties

(Alberta New Democratic Leader Rachel Notley vs. United Conservative Leader Danielle Smith: TheStar)

The Battlegrounds of Social Media

Both Smith and Notley are campaigning just as hard on the ground as they are campaigning digitally. Many people who are growing up on social media get their politics online than in-person. This isn’t the 1980s, 1990s, or 2000s; both parties are using their entire digital arsenals to give as much advantage as possible as election day nears on May 29. 

There are communities and ecosystems of political commentary. Smith seems to be taking advantage of her conservative-oriented communities who are especially effective in getting their message out. Voters can form opinions and learn facts just as fast online as they would in person. As a result, both politicians are using their unique political influence to get their digital message across. While Smith has marketed herself as the radical outsider, Notley has painted herself as the reasonable “back to normality” politician. 

Premier Smith - for all her controversies - is very good at getting the social media algorithm to spread the message for her. As soon as a brash statement is made, Canadian news media and social media are all on her case analyzing and commenting on her remarks. It’s a similar phenomenon to ex-president Donald Trump, whose questionable statements and tweets would make national headlines in the US. Premier Smith is replicating a similar strategy, the more media discourse talks about her, the more well-known she is.

Premier Smith has excelled in this effort, her Tweet views consistently outperform Notley’s. Correspondingly, Smith’s become one of the most forthcoming and recognizable premiers in recent Canadian history. News media and social media are among the best ways for people to get their name and message out, and Smith has outwitted her rival in this sphere.

Smith also has a natural charisma for the camera, and unlike her predecessor, Smith is able to create hit clips for social media without sounding awkward or overly scripted. As a result, people watch her clips and that results in the statements in those clips being circulated on the internet, news media, and in people’s minds. 

Ex-premier Notley has been on social media for a longer time, and thus her follower base on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook is higher than on Smith. But Smith’s personal impact is stirring more views and reactions out of social media. Indeed, Smith’s own impact is greater than the whole of her party or her election platform. 

At the same, being in the spotlight too often for Smith can also be a bad thing. It gives more ammunition for Notley. And because Notley is already a well-known politician who served as premier, the opposition leader’s critiques on Smith will stick in news media and social media circles. Notley’s remarks will get coverage as she has a history with the province. Notley’s NDP was the first non-conservative party to win in 44 years, she’s cemented herself as the dethroning force against the UCP. As a result, the UCP simply cannot ignore her. 

Although the UCP is slightly favoured to win the election, both parties are statistically tied on voter intentions in the polls. With both parties polling in the mid-40 percent consistently, one wrong move could make one party come out ahead on election day. And between the two parties, the ANDP has made much fewer mistakes in the public eye than the UCP. 

The Calgary Battlegrounds

Analysts and pundits are putting their bets on Calgary, whatever party wins a majority of seats in Calgary will likely be the party to win the election. 

While the inner rings of Calgary are all safe for the ANDP, Notley and her party are instead putting their efforts into the outer rings of Calgary, which they believe is the path to winning. Close to a dozen seats in the outer rings of Calgary are up for grabs for either party, winning these seats is crucial for both parties. Whoever wins these ridings will be in a dominant position to win on election day. 

Even though UCP’s Smith has said that her focus will be on winning rural ridings, the UCP isn’t foolish enough to divert key resources from the battlegrounds that’ll determine the outcome of the election to guaranteed UCP rural ridings.

Edmonton and The Battleground Stragglers 

Looking at ridings, Alberta’s second-largest city, Edmonton, is comfortably leaning toward the ANDP. With projections showcasing the ANDP winning every seat in Edmonton including two they lost in 2019. The Edmonton rural periphery ridings of St. Albert and Sherwood Park are potential tossups for the NDP. Winning these two ridings from the UCP could make the difference in the extra seats the NDP needs to form a majority government. 

Down south of Calgary, the 100,000 population strong city of Lethbridge has two seats. The west seat is safely NDP, while the east seat is a toss-up between the NDP and UCP. While the UCP won this riding in 2019 with a 14% margin, projections showcase the ANDP being slightly favoured to win this riding. If the NDP wins this riding, that’s an extra seat that’ll help in forming a majority. 

Potential rural pickups for the ANDP include Banff-Kannaskis and Lesser Slave Lake. Both seats are currently held by UCP MLAs but were previously held by the ANDP from 2015 to 2019. Winning both these is plausible for the ANDP and will help them in securing the seats they need to form government. 

The straggler seats are important to win as they could make the difference if both parties start inching toward the 44 seats majority requirement in the 87-seat provincial legislature.

Policy Battlegrounds

With a recent announcement by the UCP to fund a Calgary Flames stadium for $300 million and an income tax cut worth $1 billion. For Albertans making less than $60,000, this means a cut of 20% of their provincial tax on their weekly paychecks. The ANDP is arguing such tax cuts will only fuel the province’s already volatile debt measures. Much to UCP’s disappointment, polls in Calgary haven’t changed in favour of the UCP in response to these major policy announcements.

Polls indicate that the province is focused on what party will keep finances and debt in check, grow the economy, what province will have the best healthcare plan, and which of the two rivals will best invest in social infrastructure like education, childcare, and government benefits. 

While the ANDP has focused their policy platform on protecting social infrastructure from UCP “cuts” and “privatization”. The UCP has instead pledged “guarantees” to keep healthcare in Alberta publicly funded with no out-of-pocket payments from patients. This comes after various statements before she was the leader of the UCP in which she argues for a larger role in people paying out of pocket for healthcare. The ANDP has jumped on calling Smith hypocritical for such statements. 

With inflation coming down, the Canadian economy recovering, and Alberta experiencing massive oil revenue surpluses. Both parties have committed to responsible government spending by limiting how much the government can allocate public dollars toward expenditures. Both parties have provided fiscal anchors of 30% on the net/debt GDP ratio of the province. The ANDP has further committed to keeping government spending in check and a focus on more money on long-term savings in the province’s Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund. 

In healthcare, the UCP has put forward this year’s budget to include spending hikes toward recruiting doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers to reduce surgical and ambulance wait times. The NDP has promised to reform healthcare delivery by focusing on the creation of family health teams with physicians and related specialists, including nurses and mental health therapists. The ANDP argues this strategy would make referrals and access to care more efficient. 

On fossil fuels, both parties support the extraction of oil and gas. With the ANDP more sympathetic towards providing investments for renewable energies and lowering emissions. Notley promises to make Alberta’s electricity net zero by 2035 and further promises to increase investment in geothermal energy and clean hydrogen production. Notley argues Alberta needs to be both an oil and renewable powerhouse. 

The UCP on the other hand, is more antagonistic toward renewables. The party killed off the Renewable Electricity Plan (developed by the ANDP in 2016) which saw the government make $160 million off of contracts made with renewable energy development. According to the Canadian Wind Association, the program was responsible for unprecedented growth in Alberta’s wind energy sector including the development of 3 major wind farm projects. 

The ANDP and UCP both have a plethora of tools, strategies, and policies to win over voters. Both parties are evenly matched and the election is turning out to be the most competitive in recent Canadian history. Both parties have everything they need to win. 

At this point, the winner of this election is anybody’s guess. The outcome might be determined by what voters are feeling on a particular day or something that a leader had said the day before election day. The winning factor could even be something completely unrelated to both parties, an unexpected externality forcing the wind to blow towards one party over the other. The only thing I can hope for is that Alberta votes and delivers an election to remember.

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