Crude Observations

Election Direction

This is it. The last blog before the big day. And it’s a long one. A doozy. Many, many words. I know I have been threatening it for some time, but this is the day I have to actually make my prediction in this godforsaken Alberta election. I can’t avoid it anymore So I’m going to do that. Soon. But first, I feel I must veer off topic and tell a wee story.


This blog started about eight years ago. Under oddly similar circumstances. You see, at that time, in 2015, Alberta was going through an election, the economy was under duress, the Conservatives were being led by a former Federal Member of Parliament (the late Jim Prentice), math was hard and not yet being reinvented and messed up by successive governments and mere months before the election, one Danielle Smith, the lightning rod leader of the arch’ish conservative Wild Rose Party had decided that her political future was better served by swimming across the lake of fire to join the PCs rather than continue to have her name tarnished by the kooks she had allowed to take over her party (sounds familiar n’est-ce pas?). Oh, and the NDP had no idea they were about to be handed the keys to the kingdom.


And I was as shocked as anyone in Alberta when it happened. So shocked that I felt compelled to pound on the keyboard a bit and send out the infamous “Blog #1” – the one that started it all. So really, when you think about it, I have Rachel Notley to thank and you have Rachel Notley to blame for being in receipt of this thing on a weekly basis for the past eight long years. Do with that what you will. If it impacts your voting decision, I won’t be offended.


As luck would have it, I was way less verbose back then so I can safely cut and paste an excerpt here because it is timely:


  • The big news of the week by far was the election in Alberta of the provincial NDP party led by Rachel Notley, toppling the 44-year reign of the Progressive Conservatives. While the scale of the loss was unexpected, the result had generally been predicted by polls leading up to the vote. The NDP platform pledged to unwind most of the PC budget proposals and pursue a more aggressive tack with regards to certain policy matters.
  • As a financial advisory and M&A firm involved in the energy sector, we are mindful of the uncertainties created by a change in government and directional shifts in how key industries are perceived, however our position is to take a wait and see approach. The new governing team requires time to get up to speed on the various files and has pledged to work with industry to achieve pragmatic outcomes to their various policy initiatives. At this point, anything but the benefit of the doubt is speculative. Our advice to both buyers and sellers is to stay the course and proceed with cautious purpose – good deals will always get done.
  • At the time of writing, the Calgary Flames were still undefeated in the playoffs with a provincial NDP government.



There you have it. Remain calm was the message and for the most part the province did. The Conservatives and Wild Rose were effective in their opposition, and the NDP did become more intelligent on the energy file even if world events and various governments conspired against them.


At the time I told anyone who would listen (not many) that it wasn’t a slam dunk for the PCs or Wild Rose or some conservative union to win back the government in 2019 and that if the NDP played their cards right, the path to victory was via a pipeline, a sector recovery and a pledge to cut taxes in a pre-election budget. Save for the economy, this could have happened. I also said that for the Conservatives to win, they would have to unite the party, eliminate the bozo eruptions and, crucially, win the women’s vote which they lost in 2015.


So, in 2019 we had Jason Kenney and the newly invented and reinvigorated United Conservative Party, which was anything but, however they had a focused pitch: pipelines, jobs, economy and some pledge not to mess with health care. Which sounded great to everyone, so the NDP was tossed out on their butts and the UCP set about governing by…


Not getting any pipelines done. In fact, they lost billions in ACTUAL CASH investing in the Canadian portion of Keystone XL.


The jobs claim, dependent as it was on pipelines and the economy, was equally weak.


The economy seemed poised to grow but then we all locked ourselves up due to COVID and the sh** hit the fan for Jason Kenney and his merry band of mismatched conservatives.


As the pandemic went on, the Kenney government set about doing some really unconservative things.


As the Take Back Alberta and convoy crew tell it, Jason Kenney had to personally lock every Albertan in their house for the duration of the pandemic and sent his jack-booted thug pharmacist army out to give every able-bodied Albertan a poison (life-saving) vaccine – starting with the clergy that he had thrown in jail.


This strategy of trying to save us from a pandemic and trying to save his citizenry so backfired that when we all came up for air we had a convoy, a confidence vote and a leadership race sponsored by a special interest group (Take Back Alberta) that no one had heard of before they decided to participate in blocking the Coutts border crossing, wreck international trade and start taking over constituency associations to rig the nomination battles in favour of their highly conservative, religious and home-school informed fake libertarian bull shit.


And out of that mess there emerged a champignon – a mushroom. A toad stool. That’s right, an imperfect candidate with questionable roots.


Not someone from the establishment. Nope. Someone who has always wanted to be accepted by the establishment but who had spent the past few years in political exile getting drawn into the weeds of all the kooks and conspiracy theorists who downplayed the pandemic, chafed against being asked to wear a mask, drank horse medicine and ran screaming from needles.


Enabled by the infamous Take Back Alberta group, who to their credit appeared to be THE ONLY ONES who understood how grass roots party politics works, Danielle Smith managed to eke out a 6th ballot 50% majority amongst 30 some odd thousand people and became premiere.


And now seven months later we have an election. For all intents it’s a referendum on Danielle Smith first and the UCP second.


And she is matched against the sunshine and apple-pie closet communist NDP party of Rachel Notley. An NDP party that had the misfortune to preside over a province ravaged by cratered energy prices and investment, crumbling infrastructure and a deer in the headlights population that couldn’t admit they actually elected Lenin’s direct descendant as dictator.


The net result is this mud-slinging slug-fest election. It’s been a nasty campaign by any measure.


No one likes anyone.


The following, which I am loosely theming the “Alberta Election for Dummies” is the lay of the land for the benefit of any non-Canadian, and quite frankly non-Albertan reader who wants to know what is going on in this election, who’s who, what might happen, what the issues are and all that jazz.


The Parties:


With apologies to some of the smaller parties, there are four main parties who at some point have had incumbent representation in the legislature and are running candidates. Only two parties actually have candidates running in every riding. There is no order to this list. Some of these parties are a complete waste of your time.


Alberta Party – Wonkish do-gooders with hearts of gold. And some goofy ideas to go with the good ones. Mostly made up of disaffected conservatives and Liberals, with some notable NDP cross-over, this is the mushy middle. Not a vote splitter, they are a vote “bleeder”, likely taking equally from all the parties. They are earnest and have some good ideas, but there is no traction for a third party unless the UCP self-destructs.


Liberal Party of Alberta – Tone deaf party that really should have changed their name decades ago. Only party proposing a sales tax. Did I mention tone-deaf? In all seriousness, I have never understood why there hasn’t been a merger between the Liberals, the Alberta Party and the NDP. I don’t even know who the leader of the party is. I could look it up on google but I don’t care enough.


Roger Baker Party – Not to be confused with the Donner Party, this Twitter based grassroots movement is a clever blend of Nihilism, coffee videos and humble food bragging that boasts a virtual who’s who of Alberta based opinion shapers, sharers and amateur chefs. Counting amongst its followers yours truly, Roger Baker himself and an assortment of followers and acolytes from across the political spectrum, this party is well positioned to pick up the pieces from whatever disaster the major parties manage to inflict on the province for the next four years. Don’t sleep on a party that has equal support from an upstart UGG and Lulu wearing hipster urban geophysicist and foodie, an arch-conservative Edmonton lawyer with a penchant for bourbon, disaffected health care workers, Palm Spring property owners and a hedge fund manager impersonator. The Baker Party best days are yet to come.


NDP Party – Official opposition. Supremely talented at doling out the goodies prior to an election campaign and then promising more of the same during the campaign. Surprise winner of the 2015 provincial election, drawing the short straw of overseeing the worst economy in close to 50 years. Claims the moral and ethical high ground on each and every progressive issue of substance and isn’t afraid to twist things to prove it. Known for actually delivering pipelines while not getting any credit and avoiding direct questions about the economy or their track record while in office. The NDP is led by Rachel Notley who is intelligent, compassionate and, fortunately for the NDP, a consummate politician without whom the NDP would not have won in 2015. Depth is a bit better than in 2015.


UCP Party – Incumbent government. Born of the self-immolation and internecine warfare of both the former Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta and the Wild Rose Party (really, why couldn’t they just call themselves the “Less Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta – it would have made things simpler), the UCP is an attempt to reunite the entire right spectrum of the Alberta body politic into one cohesive entity – or at least share a name. Originally envisaged, formed and led by former premier Jason Kenney (the hardest working man in politics TM), the party is now led by Danielle Smith. This party claims to be the business and economy friendly party and promises to fight tooth and nail for Alberta and the energy sector at every turn. For fun, the party comes with a lot of well-documented baggage. Mostly of the intolerant lake of fire variety.


The Electorate and The Issues


OK, let’s meet the electorate and learn about the issues.


Alberta’s electorate is intriguing in many ways. A relatively balanced three way split between rural and urban, Alberta is increasingly ethnically diverse and generally younger than other provinces. This makes us hard to predict and the issues are all over the place. So to make things even more confusing, I’m going to combine everything into one big word salad.


Oh, wait, there does appear to be one unifying characteristic of the electorate that crosses party lines and seems to be the order of the day for politics in general. Everyone is mad.


Alberta in general is mad. Mad at the NDP. Mad at the UCP. Mad at Trudeau. Mad at BC. UCP’ers are mad that their party is experiencing the same so called bozo eruptions as the Wild Rose party. Mad that Danielle Smith can’t seem to find a position she is happy supporting for more than 15 minutes. Alberta Wild Rosers, who I guess we are supposed to call Take Back Alberta’ers are mad that the weak-kneed pseudo liberals of the former PCs are dragging their grass-roots party to the centre. TBA’ers are mad at vaccines, lockdowns that never happened, the WEF and anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the same Christo-white nationalist claptrap they have imported from the US. Newly arrived immigrants are mad that the loudest voices seem to be the most uninformed and intolerant. The LGBTQ community is mad that their rights appear to be on the trading bloc in exchange for reduced corporate taxes. Health care workers are mad that the entire system is still, after 50 years, on the verge of complete collapse. Energy people are mad that the just transition being imposed on them appears to be an evil plot to eliminate fossil fuels in Canada. Trudeau is mad there is no business case for LNG. Alberta Partiers are mad they aren’t even remotely relevant. Teachers are mad that their pension got yanked on them and that they are chronically underfunded, underpaid and unappreciated. Police are mad that they are underfunded, underappreciated, underpaid and are the targets for massive and unnecessary reorganization. CPP annuitants are mad that someone is proposing an APP. Mad. Mad. Mad.


Albertans are mad that TMX isn’t finished yet. They are mad the pipeline is being built by the Feds and is over budget. They are mad we have a carbon tax they don’t understand. They are mad that Canadian and Alberta oil and gas equipment, companies, know-how and people continue to leave for the United States. They are mad the Permian is an investment sucking black hole of profitless disappointment while our inability to get product to market leaves world beating resources in the ground and company share prices languish at less than 50% of asset value. They are mad at oilsands emissions caps. They are mad at oilsands. They are mad that tailings ponds leak, companies get away with it and the province dropped the ball. They are mad that orphan wells don’t get cleaned up. They are mad at a lack of investment. They are mad at energy majors and international players who have packed up and left. They are mad the companies who stayed aren’t investing. They are mad at Just Transitions. They are mad at ESG. They are mad at wildfires. They are mad at climate change.


They are mad at vacancy rates in downtown Calgary. They are mad we don’t have a new arena in Calgary and that Matthew Tkachuk is going to win a Stanley Cup less than a year after we traded him.


They are mad at chronically high unemployment in Calgary relative to the rest of Canada. They are mad at underemployment which is almost worse than unemployment. They are mad their taxes have gone up federally. Provincially. Municipally. They are mad at carbon taxes. They are mad at rising liquor, wine and beer taxes. They are mad that lentil taxes have gone up. They are mad at inflation.


They are mad at out of control utility and home and auto insurance costs.



They are mad that social issues that have been laid to bed continually are challenged. They are mad at the fentanyl crisis, houselessness, rampant drug use and unsafe conditions on public transit. They are mad the national media perpetuates stereotypes about their province. They are mad at being told on social media that if they vote one way they are socialists who want to turn Alberta into Venezuela and if they vote the other, they are heartless white supremacist bigots who want to turn Alberta into late 1930’s Germany. They are mad at new farm rules, child care that hasn’t gone far enough or gone too far. They are mad about a failing education system, rising class sizes, buses and discovery math (even though no one really knows what it is)



They are mad at oil prices. They are mad at natural gas prices. They are mad at gasoline prices. They are mad at food prices. They are mad at Justin Trudeau for not recognizing the business case for LNG. They are still mad about Energy East and how Biden killed the Keystone XL expansion and vapourized $1.5 billion in taxpayer money in the process. They are mad Coastal Gas Link and LNG Canada is still two years away. They are mad the NEB got packaged off to Ottawa and rebranded. They are mad at Trump, Biden, De Santis, the debt ceiling and pretty much everything American except Taylor Swift, because how can you be mad a Taylor Swift.



They are mad about being held hostage to First Nations consultation. They are mad at First Nations being shut out of investment opportunities. First Nations Albertans are mad that they get scapegoated when trying to protect their traditional rights, mad they get left out of investment opportunities, mad they don’t get consulted properly on infrastructure and development, mad their communities get left behind if there are no resources to exploit, mad at poverty and mad at being used as photo-ops or being used to justify fireworks bans. They are also mad at the Federal Government.



Albertans are mad at oilsands targeted west coast tanker bans. They are mad at federal bills guaranteed to choke investment in energy infrastructure. They are mad at BC. They are mad at Burnaby. In fact, when it comes to BC, they are mad their vacation homes are being targeted for tax reasons, they are mad about LNG vs oilsands hypocrisy and they are generally mad at anyone in power. (Just to be clear – no one is mad at NE BC which deserves the lift that LNG is going to give that region and by extension Alberta, mainly because most Albertans consider the Eastern parts of BC as Albertans in everything but name.)



They are mad at what they see as a PMO and federal leadership still so fixated on Quebec that it is ignoring, continuously, its responsibility to energy workers across Alberta. They are mad at an equalization system that reallocates federal tax money out of once high paying Alberta and hands it to other provinces that seem to not give a crap.


They are mad about COVID. They are mad they got locked down. They are mad at masks and vaccine mandates. They are mad people can’t be part of the greater good and JUST GET A VACCINE DAMMIT. They are mad that cynical opportunists have exploited the fake lockdowns to advance an agenda. They are mad that a 30,000 person movement has so infiltrated the UCP that it basically controls the party. They are mad the premier called the Justice Minister on behalf of an absolute lunatic and clown to try and subvert the rule of law.




In summary, mad. Sometimes just for the sake of being mad. The downturn and subsequent pandemic has gone on too long and the structures and parties and leaders who are supposed to fix things can’t seem to get it done. It’s like Skippy says – Alberta feels broken. And it’s taken a bright, energetic, forward thinking, positive can-do province and populace and dragged them down. We need a lift.


But, what does it mean for the election? Is the anger evenly distributed? How do people vote their anger?


Well, to win Alberta, you need 2 of the three fairly homogenous blocks to win a majority. These are Edmonton (20 seats), Calgary (26 seats) and rural Alberta (call it 25 seats) with the balance of the seats (16) coming from smaller urban centres.



In the 2015 election, the NDP swept Edmonton and the smaller urban centers like Lethbridge, Red Deer and Medicine Hat, carried a few seats in rural Alberta and rode the Wild Rose/PC vote split to victory by carrying half of Calgary.


In the 2019 election, fortress Edmonton held for the NDP, the rural powerhouse carried the day for the UCP and Calgary voted their proverbial pocketbook and gave Jason Kenney a mandate.


This time around there is very little doubt that the NDP’s power alley is in Edmonton. Edmonton has a long tradition of leaning more progressive than the rest of the province. There’s no magic to this – Edmonton is more of a government and union town, traditional supporters for the NDP. Edmonton will stay orange. The UCP won some seats there in 2019 but their candidates are flawed and the NDP leads by more than 20%. It’s an orange bloodbath.



Similarly, there are no real plausible scenarios for the NDP to make any gains at all in rural Alberta. They may hang on to a seat or two in urban centres like Lethbridge where they have strong MLA talent, but the influence of the TBA, fearmongering the memory of the NDP’s disastrous farm bill and a general lack of interest in rural issues by the NDP puts their popularity at risk. Rural Alberta kicked out Jason Kenney and selected Danielle Smith. She is their self-proclaimed champion and is promising them a disproportionately influential seat at the table. There is no scenario, absent exposing a Trudeau-Smith extra-marital affair over the weekend (and even then!) that the UCP doesn’t lock down the rural vote. No one is voting against their interests here. And it goes without saying that areas like Drayton Valley, Whitecourt, Lloydminister, Fort Mac, Red Deer, Bonnyville and others that expect to suffer the most from the Just Transition will not see an orange sunrise. Rural Alberta will be an NDP wipe-out.



So far, a draw.



Which leaves Calgary, the vote splitting sandwich will be the deciding factor in the election. Just. Like. Last. Time. And. The. Time. Before.



In Danielle Smith’s favour is the fact that the lion’s share of the corporate pain and anger is centred right here. It’s evidenced by an unemployment rate being the highest in Canada. It’s evidenced by a 25% – 35% downtown office vacancy rate. It’s evidenced by an absurdly high unemployment rate for men aged 18-30, workers who might typically be out in the field working a rig. It’s a business community that is in the tank for the energy industry and cynically supports the government that can give them the best deal. It’s a worker and professional class that typically knows only one way to vote. It’s family and business connections that always go blue so why change now. It’s also an electorate that is to a large extent disconnected from the grassroots shenanigans of the UCP and are only now learning about Take Back Alberta’s plan to Take Over the UCP.



On the flip side, Calgary today is also a dynamic, diverse and increasingly progressive city. One only needs to look at municipal politics to get that. It is much more in the center than when Danielle Smith was a CBE trustee and, dare I say it, than when they gave the keys to the province to Rachel Notley in 2015.



Social issues matter here. The NDP does a good job campaigning in Calgary. Young people flock to their messaging. The economy may not be the NDP’s calling card but the ugliness that seems to be hidden in some areas of the UCP is causing a real crisis of conscience in many physical and online communities.



Calgary’s contribution to the UCP was always more PC than Wild Rose, so the transition has been difficult. This was expected in a merger of the more right wing and progressive side of the Conservative movement but still hard. Many expected that in time the hard right edges would soften and come back to the centre but in all fairness, it didn’t really play out that way, I suspect the pandemic had a major role in that lack of an outcome. As the campaign has unfolded, I get the sense that many voters don’t want to take that chance anymore so they will vote against their perceived economic best interests for the next best thing.




And really, there is talent across the board in all the parties. Many NDP MLAs have served their constituencies well. Calgary had a sizable UCP caucus that has been somewhat marginalized during the Kenney term but if they ever found their “cojones” they would be a force to be reckoned with. The TBA constituency boards and influence should be a huge factor (many MLA candidates have acquiesced to their influence) but as alluded to above, voters are just now climbing the learning curve.



In my discussions with people I know, there is an openness to voting NDP that would have been unfathomable a couple of years ago. The “lending” of votes has traction. Women seem to be skewing hard to the NDP. There is a lot of animosity towards Danielle Smith and a lack of trust.


Quite often, pocketbook issues decide elections. It is rare that trust is such a deciding factor and Danielle Smith has been fighting an uphill battle entirely of her own making. But business issues matter and the economy is doing a lot better now than it was so the UCP can and should take credit for that. That’s politics.


In trying to appeal to the Calgary electorate, Danielle Smith’s focus is in the right place. Her message is unapologetically pro-business, pro energy and very much pro Alberta. And that resonates. On the other hand, health care and education is a giant underfunded mess and musing about more privatization is not a winning strategy anywhere in urban Canada. Has Danielle Smith hung enough shiny baubles in front of Calgary to win over a skeptical electorate? Funding a new arena is compelling. We want more LRT. Money for downtown.


On the other hand, we don’t want a premiere whose judgement we are constantly calling into question. It’s OK to be inquisitive. But be smarter. Better. The last person you talked to isn’t necessarily the smartest. Keep your thoughts to yourself and don’t be beholden to a tiny, single issue special interest group. Your job is to govern for all Albertans. Danielle hasn’t sold that very well. That should have been her closing argument.



Rachel Notley also makes a compelling case. I like her. Everyone likes her. She is a pragmatic NDP’er in the mold of Roy Romanow in Saskatchewan. She cares about people and the province. You can tell. It’s one of her many gifts. Her diversification strategy to process resources here makes sense – she implemented a lot of decent policies during her first term and got the federal government to pony up for TransMountain. Don’t let anyone tell you different, she made it happen. On the other hand she’s got that pesky proposed increase in corporate tax hanging over her head. And her terrible messaging about net zero by 2035, emissions caps and the baggage of the Notley/Singh/Trudeau alliance is a big deal, even if it’s completely false. Without these, it’s a social issue driven landslide. With it? I don’t know.



So, the choice is pretty stark, and I don’t know which way it’s going to go. There has been a lot of ink shed on some of the extreme views of candidates on each side. Egregious UCP comments are generally against people and come off as racist and intolerant. NDP bozo moments generally are targeted at the energy industry. Both piss people off, but what moves the needle enough to change votes? The economy always matters and people tend to vote their pocketbooks over their conscience. But not always.



I believe that had Kenney stayed on as leader, there would be very little doubt as to the outcome of this election. With oil prices up and a spigot of money available to shower the unwashed masses with largesse, this election and a hefty majority government was the UCP’s to lose, and they have done their best to do that, with Danielle Smith leading the charge.



So, based on my entirely unscientific survey of friends, family, Twitter and business acquaintances. I think the UCP has squandered their majority.



The hefty UCP majority won by Jason Kenney in 2019 will be lost but an NDP landslide in Calgary is just too hard so I think the UCP ekes out a narrow win here meaning Danielle Smith gets to stay in Edmonton, at least for a bit.



44 seats for the UCP, 43 for the NDP – the other parties get a participation trophy. The legislature should be raucous.



You heard it here first.



While rural support will sustain Danielle Smith for a while, but I don’t think it can sustain the UCP. It needs to be said that a narrow win fractures the party. Having a true blue city like Calgary be “too close to call” when oil prices are $75 is a disaster for the UCP and the repercussions will be felt for years.



The next election could be a true three-party race. Your guess is as good as mine who the leaders will be. Maybe Take Back Alberta knows.




The next four years should be fun. Buckle up.

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