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Alberta: Janet Brown And Final Thoughts
On The Polls And Failures
So, Janet Brown’s out, and if her UCP +8, UCP +3 in Calgary poll is anything close to right the UCP are winning this election handily. On the other hand, Quito Maggi of Mainstreet said he’d eat two hats if the UCP win on Monday, which is quite the call given Maggi’s … notable history in Calgary in recent years. It’s even more notable given the fact that even with their crosstabs I can’t find an NDP lead, but I also haven’t seen the 7 seat polls they’ll be releasing this weekend as of writing this, and potentially those are much stronger for the NDP than their regional crosstab, I don’t know.
What I do know is that one of Janet Brown and Quito’s prediction is gonna be wildly wrong, and more to the point I know that betting on the best pollster in a place to be the one that’s wrong is also very, very bad form. It might work once, but it’s a very dangerous game, and one I’m smart enough not to be playing.
The NDP’s problem is the campaign was penny wise and pound foolish, tactically smart but strategically disastrous, because while they had some good announcements and some good attacks, they never congealed their message into anything coherent. They couldn’t connect the corporate tax rise to anything they would do with the money, unlike when the Liberals announced they’d raise taxes on incomes on top earners to pay for a tax cut in the second bracket in 2015. They couldn’t combine the power prices and the child care and the children’s activities tax credit into a proper affordability agenda, because all they ever focused on or prioritized is “Danielle Smith is bad.”
Now, obviously I agree with that notion, but the problem is, as it’s been this entire time, is that ties go to the runner in Alberta, and the NDP needed to make an active case for their election, as opposed to merely opposing the government. Think this is hindsight? I said this for the first time in November 2021, when the prevailing wisdom was Notley was absolutely going to win again.
And now, unless the NDP get a miracle, they’ve thrown away their best chance at victory.
I take no pride in saying this, because I desperately want an NDP government and have described Danielle Smith as the worst conservative to govern Canada in the post war period. She is a dangerous fool, an extremist, and will lead a truly bad government. The problem is, the NDP made the whole campaign “isn’t Danielle Smith awful?” and didn’t at any point understand that people might agree with that sentiment and go “but are you any better?” The NDP have not explained what they would actually do with their power, and that is why they’ll lose.
To those in my mentions spewing increasingly nonsensical claims about polls, save your breath – no, Janet Brown having the NDP up 1 with female voters when Abacus has them +2 and Ipsos and Angus Reid have them up 7 is not evidence from which to dismiss the poll, and no, your doorknocking numbers aren’t better than polls either. I know I have used this anecdote before, but I sat in a strip mall in Markham in 2016 and was told the Ontario Liberals had 17000 “A commits” for the byelection 3 days later. The Liberals would receive less than 7400 votes on election day, in a result much more in line with the public polls of the time than the canvassing results.
I could spend the next 200 words talking about edge cases and what the NDP need to have happen to get their miracle, but it would be to extend the benefit of the doubt to a campaign and a party that doesn’t deserve it because I like their ideological position, when I haven’t given parties in similarly fucked positions the same energy. The NDP have a chance – a real one – but their chance is wide and systemic polling miss that favours the left in Alberta, a proposition that seems unlikely to say the least.
Yes, invoking 2012 may warm the hearts of many NDP supporters, but the PC brand was the safe choice against the chaos of Wildrose, and it’s hard to say that that dynamic is repeatable in an election where the NDP brand is not worth what the PC brand was. Rachel Notley’s brand has also taken a hit, with 42/57 favourables per Janet Brown the exact same as Smith’s.
Will the rest of the polling be better for the NDP? Probably not in aggregate – Leger has dropped a UCP +3, UCP +2 in Calgary poll which isn’t going to save the day, and while we know Frank Graves has something cooking, the Mainstreet release today isn’t even good for the NDP and would result in a comfortable UCP government.
So what does it all mean? The NDP have wasted their best chance to be in government through predictable failure, and Monday night will see Rachel Notley give a speech that reads tone deaf to the population about the totality of her tenure, which has been incredibly success. She will likely announce her resignation and then the NDP will have an almighty task of figuring out whether they’re smart enough to let Naheed Nenshi take them over and turn them into a proper, muscular, centrist option. (If you think Nenshi’s CTV column today was anything other than an opening salvo in the next leadership election, you’re woefully naïve.)
If the NDP want to win moving forward, they need to decide who they are as a party and what their party actually stands for before good things and being opposed to bad ones. This campaign has lacked a coherent, positive vision of what an NDP government would actually do, and they are now faced with the consequences of their failure to engage in the hard work of party building while the UCP were in calamity after calamity the last 2 years. I am as upset that they are going to lose as anyone reading this, but at the end of the day they did not meet the voters where they were and make an active case for their own success, and now they will re-elect a bad government because of it.
Barring a miracle Danielle Smith will win on Monday, and those in denial about it will understand a truth I have had to learn the hard way many times – your contempt for a government doesn’t make anti intellectual and frankly nonsensical claims about polls any less delusional. All it does is make the pain hurt more when the result comes through.