By Logan Jaspers, November 29 2022—
Right at the get-go of her premiership, Danielle Smith has fit a career’s worth of scandals in weeks. Normally, her relying on an anti-Semitic source for news and her conspiracy-laden condemnation of Alberta Health Services would have been major headlines by themselves. Yet, she topped all that by claiming the unvaccinated are the most discriminated-against minority group in her lifetime and being confronted with an unearthed clip of her blaming the West for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Certainly, many Albertans are baffled and angry with the premier, enough that after sparking much fury, she “clarified” that she wasn’t trying to trivialize the experiences of minorities while also apologizing for her remarks on Ukraine after trying to deflect blame to the New Democratic Party. Yet, Rachel Notley and the NDP have to be grinning. With a controversy-prone premier who has a lifetime of habitual quackery — she’s pushed nonsense on everything from COVID to cancer to E. coli for years — the NDP has to feel good about their electoral prospects right now.
With shiny new branding, the NDP has more than just our ignominious premier going for them. 66 out of 87 Alberta districts have an NDP candidate compared to just 37 UCP candidates, giving them a big lead on talent recruitment for the next election. The NDP also has strong, grassroots-oriented fundraising right now. Especially with strong polling after Smith’s election as premier, Alberta’s political environment looks rosy for the NDP. If an election occurred today, Notley would have a great chance at becoming premier again.
The emphasis here is “today.” Aware of how shaky the UCP’s popularity is, Smith is scared to call a by-election in Calgary-Elbow, a seat that has elected a right-of-centre MLA for 45 of the last 50 years — including two conservative premiers — so she’ll ride her term out, hoping polling will recover. With over half a year till the next provincial election, she may be right.
Voters are fickle in every democracy, but in nominally conservative Alberta, the “default option” for many is the major right-of-centre party. This was demonstrated earlier this year with the UCP and Jason Kenney — the UCP polled terribly through the worst of the pandemic and lockdowns, but when lockdown measures ended and oil revenues boomed Alberta’s coffers, polling improved despite Kenney’s unpopularity.
Of course, Smith’s demagoguery could make her more polarizing than Kenney ever was, but as vexing as she is, if the economy is doing alright, enough Albertans may be willing to overlook her blunders, especially as they fade to distant memories.
This could be accentuated if the NDP focuses on Smith’s scandals. As the provincial Legislature won’t open until November 29 and she is yet to announce or support any legislation. Smith and the UCP have said and will continue to make asinine remarks and have been and will continue to deserve criticism for those remarks, but this criticism should be kept proportional to their material effect.
Just look at how American media handled the Trump presidency. The Trump presidency was unprecedented in its contempt for basic democratic institutions, but the public reaction was dampened by the media reacting equally incensed to how Trump fed Koi fish in Japan or served fast food to collegiate football champions. They failed to keep their criticism proportional to the severity of those issues, which desensitized the American public to Trump and made it so that his approval rating was essentially stable after 2017 despite numerous transgressions.
The NDP cannot singularly rely on slamming everything Smith does and says to win over voters. This kind of electioneering is negative, insofar as the NDP is focusing on who they aren’t, on why you shouldn’t vote for Smith rather than positively focusing on why you should vote for them specifically. Rather than just assuming that all of Smith’s opponents in the public will default to the NDP, they must remember that Albertans could also vote for a third party or not vote at all. If the NDP wishes to return to government in 2023, they must articulate a positive vision for Alberta that goes beyond mere opposition to one politician or party.
No outcome in electoral politics is a sure thing, especially more than half a year out. If the NDP thinks they can coast and take potshots from the sidelines while relying on Smith alienating enough voters, then they may be in for a rude awakening come next May. Instead, they must be active and run a positive campaign that tackles issues relevant to Albertans.
This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.