As NDP huddles in Edmonton, trouble could be brewing for its MLAs in Calgary
New Democrats took most Calgary ridings in last election but no room for complacency in '19
While Calgary's NDP MLAs are in Edmonton this weekend for the party's annual convention, there are reasons for them to be concerned about their future back home.
The NDP took 15 of Calgary's 25 seats in the last election, a record breakthrough for the party in the Stampede City.
But since the formation of the United Conservative Party, pollster Janet Brown says the UCP has consistently been polling ahead of the NDP.
And there's a reason to believe many local New Democrats may be heading for trouble in the spring election.
"Albertans are very pre-occupied about the economy and the UCP is delivering a more compelling message about the economy right now," said Brown.
"I really think that the NDP has to sort of re-think the way they're talking about the economy."
Hey, hey big spender
If the New Democrats are down in the polls with Calgarians, it's not because they've ignored the residents of Alberta's biggest city.
Brown said they've been dropping billions of dollars on high-profile projects in town.
That list includes $1.5 billion for the Green Line LRT project, a new cancer centre that's now under construction and work to complete the ring road.
The province has even said it would spend $700 million if Calgary is named the host city of the 2026 winter Olympics.
But Brown said all that spending may not be enough to convince voters to re-elect NDP candidates.
"They're glad all these things have happened but really right now, what's pre-occupying voters is how do we get this economy back on track? How do we get the energy sector back on track?"
"Right now, they just don't think the NDP is the party with the best solutions."
No pipeline but Ceci feels Notley is their ace
The lack of a new pipeline to carry Alberta's oil resources to world markets is part of that.
A top Calgary member of cabinet, finance minister Joe Ceci, said he thinks people know that Premier Rachel Notley is doing everything possible to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built.
But they also know the federal government has primary responsibility for that task, not the province.
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"She's stood up to Ottawa in saying no to a federal plan for a carbon levy beyond what we've got because we don't have market access. We're not going to sign on to that," said Ceci.
He added that just this week, Notley suggested that if the federal government cannot deliver a pipeline in the short term that it should buy tanker cars and locomotives to help expedite the shipment of oil by rail.
Ceci said that Notley is a key part of the NDP team's chances in Calgary in the next election. He also feels another factor for the NDP is UCP Leader Jason Kenney.
"It's a stark contrast between Jason Kenney who's got a backward-looking, regressive view of where Alberta needs to be and Rachel Notley who's continuing to fight for this province, continuing to stand up to Ottawa every day," said Ceci.
"I like the way this is going."
Who is your MLA?
Brown said other factors may hamper the NDP candidates as they stump for votes next spring.
While she notes that Notley is a well-known entity with voters, many of the city's backbench NDP MLAs have low public profiles.
They very much are pushing this notion of Rachel's team and really downplaying the fact the party's called the NDP.- Janet Brown
Many riding boundaries will also be changing for the next election.
Brown said that means plenty of voters may have no knowledge of the NDP candidate on their doorsteps even if those candidates are currently sitting MLAs.
She even wonders if the party's name will even appear on campaign signs because it is Notley who has forged an identity with voters.
"They very much are pushing this notion of Rachel's team and really downplaying the fact the party's called the NDP," said Brown.
Party label may be a boat anchor
She adds that the NDP may also have to carry New Democrat baggage from elsewhere.
For example, she points out the NDP government in B.C. gets plenty of blame in Alberta for helping to impede the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
And Notley has repeatedly sparred verbally with federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh on the pipeline issue.
Still, Brown said election campaigns do matter and things can change.
Jason Kenney often talks about Alberta's accidental, one-and-done NDP government which reaped the benefit of vote splitting between the former PC Party and Wildrose Party.
Brown said one thing the NDP cannot count on in the next election is conservative minded voters having to choose between two right-of-centre parties jockeying for power.
"This time out, the right is united and that's going to make the math a lot harder for the NDP," she said.