Alberta election 2015: 5 things to know about today's vote
Results to come after polls close at 8 p.m. MT
Albertans head to the polls today in the province's 29th general election, and it seems all bets are off when it comes to which party will form the next government.
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Here are a few things to keep in mind as Albertans cast their ballots:
1) 1st minority government possible
Jim Prentice, the leader of Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party, called the election in April with 70 out of the 87 seats in the legislature. It was touted as a coronation for Prentice, once a Conservative MP recruited to fix the party's woes following the resignation of Alison Redford.
Prentice said the government needed a mandate for its new financial plan, but the Official Opposition was still reeling from a large migration of MLAs to the PCs in December. The NDP had just elected a new leader, and the Liberals were once again being led by Davin Swann on an interim basis until the party could hold a leadership vote.
Opposition parties were not the only ones upset over an early election, which was supposed to be set in the spring of 2016. During the campaign, Albertans highlighted government accountability as one of the top election issues.
The question now is whether Albertans will see a new party in power, or even its first minority government in 110 years, and how that will affect the provincial budget and economy.
2) New opposition?
If change is on its way in Alberta, it begs the question: Who will take the role of the Official Opposition?
The Wildrose Party maintained its status after nine MLAs — including leader Danielle Smith — crossed the floor to the PCs. Some of them have since decided to retire from politics, and others lost their PC nomination races before the election was called, as Smith did in the riding of Highwood. The party has been left with five sitting members, and a new leader who still needs to win a seat in the legislature.
Deciding to step away from politics and write a book, Smith has been on the record calling for merger between the PCs and Wildrose. Notley also spoke about working with other parties, such as the Wildrose, on an issue-by-issue basis if there is a minority government.
However, many rural Albertans haven't forgotten the Wildrose defections. It has yet to be seen which party rural voters — many in southern Alberta who voted Wildrose in 2012 — will take that anger out on.
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean also said all party candidates will sign a contract agreeing to pay $100,000 should they choose to join another party.
3) Orange crush or crash?
The biggest headline coming out of Alberta in the homestretch of the campaign has been the popularity of the NDP.
The party has never won more than 16 seats — or 29 per cent of the vote — but Rachel Notley led the polls in approval ratings and her party ranked first among decided voters in several polls released last week.
The party has strong support in Edmonton, but the question is whether that will transfer into a high seat count.
Many of the progressive voters in Alberta cast ballots for the PCs in 2012 out of fear of a Wildrose surge, but that support seems to be shifting to the NDP this time around after the Liberals failed to nominate a full slate of candidates in all 87 ridings.
Albertans have identified the province's struggling economy as a top election priority, and the PCs have pounced on the message, asking if the NDP is the right party to steer Alberta through the downturn. Prominent oil company CEOs also came out swinging on the weekend against the NDP's plan to review royalty rates.
4) Will the polls be wrong again?
Albertans learned from the 2012 vote not to trust the polls.
Based on the early polls in 2012, Alberta was in for political upheaval unlike anything the province had seen in four decades.
In the end, the PC dynasty remained intact, after concerns about social conservatism and controversial statements from Wildrose candidates pushed progressive voters to cast ballots for the PCs.
So far this year, the polls also are bringing forward surprising predictions. Alberta seems to be divided into three sections: the NDP winning Edmonton, the Wildrose taking the rural vote and the PCs holding on to Calgary.
They have also painted a bleak picture for some who served in Prentice's cabinet. Whether pollsters will once again be proved wrong remains up to Albertans.
5) Voter engagement and the Flames factor
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi referred to this year's election as "Seinfeldian," but said a week later that statement wasn't completely fair.
"It's not about nothing, but it's been about issues of leadership and trust and accountability," Nenshi said. "But it hasn't really been about specifics about policy on anything."
And he's right. Issues of trust and change continue to surface for candidates out knocking on doors such as those in Edmonton's affluent Whitemud constituency. Some pollsters believed Albertans may just tune out of the election, opting for a distraction such as the Calgary Flames playoff run.
Low voter turnout is typically beneficial for the governing party, but is that what Alberta will see Tuesday?
Elections Alberta reported Monday that the number of voters at advance polls was up 31 per cent from the last provincial vote in 2012. Albertans have also been packing into community spaces for events and candidates have reported an increase in requests for signs.
The use of the Alberta Vote Compass also increased by more than 100,000 over the 2012 provincial election.
Polling results suggest more than a quarter of Albertans have not figured out who they will support. Those people may just hold the key to Alberta's future if they can make it out to vote.