CBC News with Melanee Thomas 08 January 2019
At some point before May 31, Albertans will head to the polls — and at this stage of the game, the United Conservative Party is way out ahead in terms of confirmed candidates.
But that might not matter.
As of Jan. 8, the UCP led by Jason Kenney had 79 candidates in place for the 87 electoral districts, followed by the Alberta Party (led by Stephen Mandel) with 52 and Rachel Notley’s governing NDP with 32.
The Alberta Liberal Party, led by David Khan, and the Green Party of Alberta, led by Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes, each have seven candidates in place. The Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta, led by Derek Fildebrandt, has one.
“There are lots of indicators of election preparedness. This might be one of them, but I’m not sure it’s the most important one,” said Melanee Thomas, a political scientist at the University of Calgary.
“I mean, I would normally look at whether or not a party has the ability to spend to the limit. And I think all of the parties, like both the UCP and the NDP, clearly have this because we’ve got pretty good restrictions on how much parties can spend now.”
Under Alberta’s fixed-election-date legislation, voters must go to the polls between March 1 and May 31, with a 28-day campaign once the writ is dropped. When the fall sitting of the legislature wrapped on Dec. 7, Notley fuelled speculation about an early election call by refusing to commit herself to holding a spring sitting of the legislature — one that typically begins in February.
Possible reasons for delay
It’s not unusual for a party to be short of confirmed candidates, particularly before the election writ is dropped, but Thomas says there could be some factors contributing to the NDP being behind.
She lists an NDP commitment to having more diversity, particularly more women, as candidates; a media narrative that paints the UCP as the predetermined winners; and what she says is a perception from some on the right side of the political spectrum in Alberta that they are entitled to be in power, versus a left wing perception that they are not.
Thomas, who focuses on gender in much of her research, says it takes more time to recruit diversity and that studies show women, in particular, are more likely to come forward the longer a nomination is open.
Currently, 15 of the 32 NDP candidates are women, while the UCP has 24 women out of its field of 79.
Roari Richardson, the provincial secretary of the NDP, said he’s not sure there’s a connection between the length of nominations and the desire for gender parity.
He does, however, say that is a goal within the party.
Thomas also says the image of preparedness demonstrated by a nearly full slate for the UCP could backfire.
“The other thing I would say is that there’s a potential risk associated with having all your candidates in place because they are known, and giving comment on things in the media, the possibility for the bozo moments goes up,” she said.
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt says the numbers don’t necessarily speak to issues within the NDP, which he says has “been busy governing.”
“The question comes down to election timing,” he said. “I think if we were halfway through, you know, if the election was in two weeks, I think that would obviously be a problem. But there’s still several months ahead.”
Bratt said it was important for the UCP to get its nominations wrapped up early because it had more seats to fill, because it’s a brand new party and because it was having contested nominations.
There’s also a demand for those nominations because they’re viewed as a sure path to a seat in the government, according to Bratt.
More candidates than ridings
Erika Barootes, president of the UCP, said there were more than 300 individuals who expressed interest in running for the party.
“Because we have so many contested nominations as opposed to appointments or acclamations that many of the other parties are seeing, we needed to start early in order to roll them out,” she said. “Obviously we can’t do them all at once.”
She said it was important to be organized because the UCP doesn’t get to determine when the writ will drop.
And as for the possibility of those “bozo” eruptions Thomas mentioned? Barootes said it was more important to have candidates out there and prepared, despite the risk of going off message.
Richardson says the NDP is taking a different view, ensuring it thoroughly vets those who will run under its banner. He says, like the UCP, the NDP has more would-be candidates than places for them to run.
He also couldn’t resist going after the UCP and some of the controversies that have plagued its contested nomination process.
“They’ve raced ahead and in many cases they nominated people who clearly don’t represent the values of the province, never mind the values of their own party, and it’s cause them quite a bit of internal angst,” he said.
The NDP has 22 nomination meetings listed on its website between now and Feb. 7. The UCP has two open contests listed on its site.
Richardson, with the NDP, says a total of 57 nominations have either occurred or are planned and there’s another “15 or so that are almost about to be announced.”