In a few hours time, Albertans will know who their next premier is.
It will either be Rachel Notley, the popular leader of the flagging NDP, or it will be Jason Kenney, the controversial figure whose United Conservative Party showed a commanding lead in almost every poll.
But adding to the potential election night drama are hundreds of thousands of advance votes, some of which won’t be counted until Wednesday at the earliest. For some ridings, where up to one-quarter of all ballots cast might not be counted early, it could mean the results in some ridings won’t be clear until the coming days.
Tuesday marked the end of a rollicking, 28-day campaign that veered frequently into personal attacks. Kenney, the former Conservative cabinet minister who left his seat in Ottawa to unite the province’s fractured conservative movement, was beset by controversy through much of the campaign. The NDP zeroed in on his past, unearthing and releasing Kenney’s political record and retrograde comments on LGBTQ rights.
Kenney insisted it was simply a “fear and smear” campaign, meant to distract from the NDP’s economic record. The economy has long been top of mind in the province. Since 2016, when the bottom fell out of the international oil market, Alberta has been in a prolonged recession; recovery, economists say, has stalled coming into 2019, with unemployment hovering around seven per cent.
Kenney has argued that Notley’s government has made a bad situation worse with higher taxes, more regulations and increases in minimum wage. Notley, in turn, has said Kenney’s plan to freeze spending and pursue more private healthcare options would have a profound effect on students and patients.
As the UCP led in the polls, the NDP has stressed that polls have been historically inaccurate in Alberta. The polls were indeed wrong in 2015, when Notley’s NDP surged to a majority — forming the province’s first NDP government — in one of the most unprecedented election results in Canadian political history.
That victory was made possible, perhaps, by vote splitting among the province’s conservatives, who were divided between the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Party. But Kenney’s union of the two under the UCP has all but eliminated the chance of that happening again.
And while the new party polls better than the NDP, Kenney personally hasn’t polled as well as the incumbent premier. A Global/Ipsos poll on Monday, however, found that Kenney was closing the gap. On the question of who would make a better premier, Notley held a “statistically insignificant” two-point lead over Kenney (37 per cent versus 35 per cent).
On Tuesday, Notley started by voting at the Old Timers Cabin, in her riding of Edmonton-Strathcona, with her family and three-legged dog Tucker.
“Can’t change my mind now,” Notley told reporters at the ballot box.
Kenney’s campaign was making the north-south run down Alberta’s Queen Elizabeth II corridor; he stopped at the Tim Hortons in Red Deer, Alta., about halfway between Edmonton and Calgary, then another stop in the Calgary-Elbow riding, where the Alberta party candidate, Greg Clark — a former party leader — is hoping to retain a seat.
Notley’s future will be one immediate question should the NDP be defeated. She told the Post she would be staying on as a member of the legislature, regardless; it’s not yet known if she’ll stay on as party leader, even if there is no obvious successor.
— with files from The Canadian Press
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