“Now the Irish have a saying, and in it truth will always ring… /
Don’t matter who you vote for, you always end up with a king.”
– The Rheostatics, ‘Bread, Meat, Peas & Rice’.
After an evening of (mild) relief and (even milder) surprise, I have a few comments on the Alberta provincial election.
For those who may not know my terrible secret… I’m an Albertan. I know… Me. Albertan. And here you thought I was so well behaved and hygienic.
Nope. I grew up in Calgary, and I still visit my parents each year at Christmas. I like to think I have some insight into the world of Albertan politics, having experienced The Crazy firsthand. So with that in mind, here are my thoughts on yet another Conservative majority…
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: The Wild Rose Party did not win a majority, and that is very clearly a good thing. WRP policy, if one can call it that, is straight-up batshit crazy. Take the angry little trolls from the Fraser Institute, toss in the campaign experience of the Wormtongues over at UofC’s PoliSci department (an embarrassment to academia if ever there was one…), and add in a ton of oil industry money, and you’ve got the WRP in a nutshell. This isn’t so much a political party as a loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires, to paraphrase Paul Simon. Pure corporatism, wrapped in the pleather blanket of good old-fashioned Prairie Populism: surpluses for all, and a cheque in the mail for your support! (Chickens in pots to follow soon.)
So yes, it’s a good thing the WRP didn’t win a majority. That would have been horrific.
Now… WHY didn’t they win?
Well, two serious issues come out of this one, and each has received some attention since Monday night. The twin issues of Polling and Electoral Structure/Reform worked hand-in-hand, giving the PCs the boost they needed to stay in power.
Right up until the final weekend, polls were showing the WRP heading to victory. The numbers started to twitch a little on Sunday, giving the smallest hint of things to come. Then the PCs won, making the pollsters look incompetent.
Now, some are seeing this as the death of polling in Canadian politics, as if ‘asking people about their political views’ is somehow silly and outdated, cuz, you know, like, The Internet and stuff… (That’s about as sophisticated as I’ve seen the argument so far…) What this election tells me is that pollsters are no longer working with anything resembling an accurate sampling of voters. The approach may still have merit, but the methodological details need re-working. For one, take a long hard look at who you are polling, and how. If your polling company still prefers landlines over cellphones, you are just plain bad at your job. That 65 year-old yodeling farmer and WRP supporter the CBC found (I wish I was making this up) likely has a landline. The somewhat progressive 30 year-old urban voter in Calgary or Edmonton who was terrified of the WRP likely does not have a landline.
Polling isn’t dead. But it needs to catch up to this century. Find a variety of ways to assess the current mood of the voting public, rather than relying on a single limited and limiting metric.
That said, the polling which showed the WRP far ahead of the PCs clearly had an influence on many ‘leftish’ voters. Liberal and NDP support collapsed in a number of ridings, basically confirming that ‘strategic voting’ had occurred. I want the NDP to win, but since I doubt that will happen and I’m scared of the WRP, I guess I’ll vote PC…
One more time… ELECTORAL goddam REFORM. Drop the ‘first past the post’ system, and allow voters to rank candidates. Pick NDP as your top choice. If they don’t get enough votes to take the riding, you have a second choice, which may or may not be the PC candidate… The Alberta election, perhaps even more than the last federal election, is a strong argument for changing the way we vote for candidates in elections. I mean really… the Oscars have a better voting structure in place then we do in our actual elections…
And it’s out of this ‘lesser of two evils’ argument that I come to my final, and most important point:
There is absolutely no reason to CELEBRATE the election of yet another Conservative government.
Yeah, they’re NOT the Wild Rose Party. Sure, Redford seems quite qualified for political office.
It’s still a Conservative government.
They will not be repealing Bill 44, which – in case you missed it – is an absolutely batshit insane piece of Education legislation.
They will continue to treat major players in the oil industry as first-class citizens with special rights and privileges. (Job creators, don’t you know…)
They are still ‘progressive’ in name only, and conservative in deed.
Most importantly, they continue to treat Alberta as a giant business – a corporation with taxpayers instead of citizens, balance sheets and taxes instead of a public good, and a bottom line instead of a mandate to govern, lead, build, or grow.
The conservative mentality, whether in Alberta, Ottawa, London or Washington, is the same: good little neoliberal subjects do as they’re told; poverty and crime are individual moral failings; there is no such thing as systemic or institutional power, so these systems can’t be to blame for anything; governments exist to balance budgets – leave caring and compassion to charity and the private sector; the invisible hand of the market cures all ills; goodness and wealth are interchangeable qualities.
It’s great that many younger people got interested in this provincial election, paying attention to the campaigns and working to support the candidates and parties that best represented their interests. Now the election is over, and the actual work of scrutinizing action begins. The lesser of two evils is still an evil – don’t let the PCs off the hook just because they’re not as crazy as the WRP…
Next up? BC’s inevitable swing back to the NDP. Should be just as entertaining.