Calgarian votes will be decisive in this provincial election
By Logan Jaspers, April 24 2023—
If, in all likelihood, you’re a Calgarian reading this, then congratulations — your vote in this provincial election will be critical, and maybe even historic.
Whenever election seasons begin, the platitude of “every vote matters” rears its head as a means of encouraging people to go and cast a ballot. Putting aside that people should vote as a matter of principle, the reality of our first-past-the-post system means that some votes, unfortunately, don’t really matter, insofar as affecting outcomes. This has been the case in most Calgary districts.
Provincially, Calgary has been dominated by right-of-centre parties since the 1930s. Whether it was the Social Credit Party, the Progressive Conservatives, and now the United Conservative Party (UCP), Calgarians have for the most part elected MLAs from these parties.
Take the most recent election, in 2019, as an example. Of Calgary’s 26 seats, the UCP won 23, winning over 53 per cent of the city’s vote in the process. And of those 23 seats, the UCP candidate won 18 of them with over 50 per cent of the vote in the district. Unless you lived in a few districts, concentrated in the city’s centre and in the North-East, the UCP margin of victory was so large that your vote made no discernable difference to the final outcome.
This election could be different. The New Democratic Party (NDP) are polling on par with the UCP, thanks in great part to their strength in Calgary. Unlike in 2015, where the NDP won the majority of Calgary seats thanks to the massive vote-splitting between the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Party, the NDP are competitive because they are earnestly rivalling a united right in popularity. If the NDP wins the majority of Calgary’s seats on May 29, it will be the first time in nearly a century that a left-of-centre party will have won Calgary’s seats by virtue of its own renown.
Beyond threatening to truly break the right-of-centre political monopoly on the city’s seats, Calgary is important to this provincial election because our seats may very well decide who forms the next government. Edmonton, which looks poised to be cleanly swept by the NDP, has 25 seats. The rest, a mishmash of smaller cities like Lethbridge and Red Deer as well as Alberta’s rural communities, has 36 seats which are mostly held by the UCP. As a majority requires 44 of 87 seats, this means that Calgary’s 26 seats are pivotal.
If the NDP holds on to all 24 seats they won in 2019 and wins at least 21 more, they will form Alberta’s next government. Given NDP strength in Edmonton and UCP preeminence outside the major cities, and especially amid worsening urban-rural polarization, most of those 21 will likely come from competitive, seat-rich Calgary.
Make no mistake, however, an NDP victory is a tall order. Given the aforementioned large margins with which the UCP won in most of Calgary in 2019, the NDP is going to need to convince a lot of voters to support them instead, or hope that turnout for the UCP is abysmal. And frankly, even if the NDP manages to get both, some districts in the southernmost parts of the city, like Jason Kenney’s old stomping grounds of Calgary-Lougheed, are so conservative that the NDP winning is all but inconceivable.
As such, the quality of the campaigns the NDP and UCP run over the next few weeks are going to be key. If the NDP are disciplined, choose a message that truly resonates with Calgarians and has a great get-out-the-vote operation, then they will have an excellent chance of forming government again.
Likewise, Calgary is competitive enough that the UCP will have to pitch themselves to Calgarians rather than taking our support for granted, something which won’t be easy given the premier’s tendency to get embroiled in controversies she should know better not to get into. The days of provincial conservatives counting on Calgary to automatically support them are, at least for now, gone.
Regardless of one’s political preferences, it’s admirable that we have an earnestly competitive election. Politicians are accountable to voters, but they don’t always act that way. Now, the two major parties will have to put in the work to hear out what Calgary voters have to say. Calgarian interests will be on the fore this election, and, likewise, with Alberta’s future potentially in the balance, casting an informed ballot on May 29 is of paramount importance.
This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.