Big spending by Conservatives didn't translate into votes in Alberta election
Desire for change trumped spending as voters in spring election flocked to NDP
Provincial election finance figures show Progressive Conservative candidates spent exponentially more than their political rivals, only to be snubbed at the polls by voters eager for change.
The Tories spent a total of $5.47 million compared to only $998,000 by the New Democrats, who won 54 ridings while reducing the Tory dynasty to 10 seats in the legislature. The Wildrose increased its seat total to 21, and now has 22 after winning the byelection in the Calgary-Foothills riding vacated when Tory leader Jim Prentice abruptly quit on election night.
Many big-name, big-budget Tory cabinet ministers and members of the legislature lost to NDP neophytes who spent a fraction on their bare-bones campaigns.
One of the biggest upsets was in Edmonton-Whitemud, where NDP candidate Dr. Bob Turner knocked off health minister and former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel. Mandel had won the riding in a byelection only six months previously with more than 40 per cent of the vote.
In the May 2015 election, Mandel spent nearly $133,000, about 10 times more than Turner.
The final tally showed Turner clinched 57 per cent of the vote, while Mandel trailed with 32 per cent.
Focus on 'one-on-one contact'
New NDP MLA Heather Sweet won her campaign in Edmonton-Manning on a budget of $24,000. Her Tory counterpart, Gurchan Garcha, spent $94,000.
"I don't know if it was necessarily how much was being spent but the work that was being done on the ground," Sweet said.
She credits her campaign's success to its focus on "one-on-one contact" with voters.
"Because we were actually making the human contact, that was what made the change for us," Sweet said. "We were (going) door to door, talking to people, making sure they knew who we were."
Ban on corporate, union donations
In June, the legislature unanimously passed the NDP government's first bill, which bans corporations and unions from donating to political campaigns.
Mount Royal University political scientist David Taras said the new political landscape and election-financing rules will intensify the fight between the Tories and the Wildrose for conservative donations.
"I think we are now in a situation where there is a battle between the Conservatives and the Wildrose for survival," Taras said. "And some of that is going to be decided by donations and money."
Taras said the new law will also test the New Democrats' ability to connect with voters on an individual level.
"You win because you tapped into the grassroots, but in terms of finances, was it a once-only thing?" he wondered.
"Was it people swept up in the wave?" Taras asked. "Were people swept up in a wave of anger against the Tories? How many people will actually be giving money to the government, and who will those people be?"
CAMPAIGN SPENDING BY PARTY LEADERS
- Rachel Notley (NDP) - $93,162
- Brian Jean (Wildrose) - $38,961
- Jim Prentice (PC) - $125,495
- David Swann (Liberal) - $49,756
- Greg Clark (Alberta Party) - $97,506