This week, Rachel Notley’s main announcement has been a children’s activities tax credit of up to $500, essentially halving the cost of having a kid play hockey in the province (though, obviously, hockey isn’t the only thing this applies to). It’s tax refundable, which is important from an equity standpoint, but it is fair to say that it’s a handout to middle and upper class parents whose kids were already going to play hockey or dance or whatever. And I am thrilled.
Do I love the optics of a left wing party engaging in fairly blatant vote buying? Not really. Do I love the NDP spending money on a universal benefit that a lot of upper class parents could easily have done without? In a vacuum, no, but this is politics, and the thing that I’ve been ranting about for 18 months is that the NDP needs to win, and that they haven’t shown a willingness to do what they have to do to actually win this whole time. And now, with this tax credit, they’ve shown their heads are out of their asses, and it couldn’t be happening at a better time.
Because, as much as some on the left don’t like it, the NDP have to win on hard mode, because it’s fucking Alberta, and no amount of whinging about the fact that the NDP should beat Danielle Smith actually helps accomplish the goal of beating her, and at some point we all have to accept that deserve ain’t got nothing to do with it.
Last night the Maple Leafs lost their series against Florida, leading to another running crisis in Toronto between the trusters of this never ending process and those who want radical change. It’s an interesting argument and I’ve had opinions on it at various times, but the reason the Leafs haven’t blown it up before now despite losing in 5 straight Game 7 (or equivalent) situations is simple - Toronto’s management wanted to win a certain way more than they wanted to win.
Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan didn’t just want to win a Cup, but they wanted to win a Cup with their guys - they wanted their victory to not just be the first Cup since 1967 but they wanted it to be their Cup, in the same way Philadelphia 76ers fans defended the Embiid-Simmons pairing beyond the point at which it made any sense. The Leafs wanted to win with this core - the three stars they drafted, and the free agent they wooed to come home, and every failure stems from that.
What I’ve been worried about with the Alberta NDP isn’t that they’re stupid, but that they didn’t want to do the things to appeal to the voters they need to win this election because those voters have been, for so long, the enemy. If the NDP wins this election it will be on the votes of the 1% and those working hard to enter it, not a worker’s revolt. It will be because well off suburban and urban parents in Calgary’s Northwest and the Edmonton donut trust the NDP on economics and/or are turned off by Danielle Smith being psychotic. The swing voters of this election are not conservatives because they don’t know better, but they’re the beneficiaries of the PC dynasty - professionals who would have paid a lot more tax in BC and who had their bonuses paid or their workplaces built or their opportunities expanded because of the oil boom.
These are doctors working in hospitals built by oil profits and lawyers who bought their houses with bonuses billed from the oil companies and accountants doing tax efficiency for the oil companies, most of whom got a tax rise when Notley came in last time and all of whom would like that being taken off the table. But they also find Smith to be appalling, because she is antithetical to their other desire, which is not to feel shame when out with friends for being a Conservative. And that’s where this election will be decided.
The NDP has to make these voters more scared of a Danielle Smith-led government’s social values beliefs outweigh their worries about the NDP’s economic credibility. Things like the children’s activities tax credit help with that, because it reassures wealthy voters that Notley doesn’t view them as the enemy, and the health care stuff helps too, if they can get voters to believe it. These people are fiscal conservatives - convincing them that private care will end up costing them more is a good argument, if they can make it believably.
Will it work? Hard to say. Mainstreet’s Saturday-released tracking data doesn't show a particular penalty for the Smith Lake Of Hitler stuff province wide, but its Calgary crosstab does show a big swing against the UCP offset by a UCP surge in Edmonton which seems unlikely. Abacus, on the other hand, shows the NDP in a winning position, with undecideds breaking to the NDP and a Calgary crosstab that is genuinely frightening for the UCP. Will it hold? No idea, and given their track record of releasing polls on the same day every week in campaigns, a Saturday Leger would not shock me at all, which would help clarify this confusion immensely.
I said earlier this week that this is the NDP’s best position they’ve been in since Kenney retired and that’s 1000% true, but I also have been clear this week that a lot of people are getting ahead of themselves. Smith might lose this election, but the rush to declare she has lost it already is nonsense. To kill a Conservative government in Alberta is about as difficult a thing you can do in politics, and the glib assumptions from many that Smith had disqualified herself from winning again are just begging to be mocked in 16 days.
Is Smith fit to govern? Of course not, but that’s not the question. It’s not about whether people like me and my readers, which pretty universally think she’s a nutter from best I can tell, think she’s fit to lead or not, it’s about whether the NDP can make the calculus shift for enough voters who will absolutely benefit from the UCP’s promised tax cuts and will never face the consequences of cuts to public services. Yes, Danielle Smith is embarrassing, but for the swing voters in this election, right wing governments have been good to them. The NDP has to meet voters where they are, not where they want wish them to be, if they’re going to win this election. This week shows they’re willing to do so, and everyone who wants an NDP government should rejoice.
I believe that Notley needs to announce 2 or 3 more of these kinds of measures. A couple of short term, tangible benefits that nobody would really object to. For example raising the tax free personal amount or lowering the tax percentage for the lower tax brackets. She needs to keep reminding the voters that economically she is the prudent choice. She already have the vote of the people who vote on a moral basis.
We here in the Prairies have always viewed Alberta as "the best" - it attracted the best doctors, the best university professors, the best corporate executives, and so forth. Our perception was that everyone in Alberta loved their province and was proud to live there. Under the UPC, this reputation is now in tatters --doctors leaving, universities losing faculty, corporations in chaos -- I think Albertans are simply embarrassed that their province is now n such a mess. So I believe if Notley adopts a "The NDP Will Make Alberta Proud Again" mantra, this could make the difference. Yes, hammering the UCP for their ineptitude is important - people have to be reminded of this -- but she also had to push forward a positive vision for "investing in Alberta" again.