Alberta Votes

Alberta election campaign reaches the halfway mark

Alberta's upcoming election could be the closest the province has seen in almost half a century.

'For the first time in my memory we have a real race and a real race on issues'

The Alberta election was supposed to be a coronation for Premier Jim Prentice — and it still might be. But at the campaign's midpoint, the Progressive Conservative leader finds himself rewriting the script as he gets squeezed by the NDP and Wildrose Party. (Canadian Press/CBC)

Alberta's upcoming election could be the closest the province has seen in almost half a century.

To some, Alberta is more dynasty than democracy, with the Progressive Conservatives' hold on power in the province running nearly 44 years.

In 2012, it looked like the Tories' grip was slipping yet the party won handily. Now the PC reign appears vulnerable again as the Tories seem to be in a three-way race for power.

"We are only halfway through the election. It's an early time to be judging outcomes," said PC Party Leader Jim Prentice on Tuesday.  

It's a scene that seemed unthinkable just weeks ago, but today Prentice was clearly shaken after fielding questions about his willingness to work in a coalition government and whether Alberta's PC dynasty could be coming to an end.

2-front war

"We talk about the PCs facing that two-front war — something that they really haven't had to do before," said Corey Hogan, a political strategist with Hill + Knowlton in Calgary. 

He says a series of polls show a tight three-way race between the NDP, Wildrose Party and the PCs — with some showing the governing party polling third.

"For the first time in my memory we have a real race and a real race on issues. Do you want to cut? Do you want to spend? Or do you want something in between?" said Hogan. 

According to Vote Compass, government accountability is the No. 1 issue among Albertans.

"Budget deficit, government spending, taxes — these issues are still ranked very high on the list of issues most important to Albertans, but for government accountability to top that list, it's unprecedented," said Clifton van der Linden with Vox Pop Research, the company behind CBC Vote Compass.

Budget backlash

Much of the backlash against the PCs comes from the party's recent budget — a document heavy on tax hikes for people but not for corporations.

David Stewart, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, says polls showing a tight race may not be entirely accurate but he adds they can still have an impact.

"It can have a mobilizing impact on people even if they are not accurate in the sense that the polls are not giving the usual sense of conservative inevitability," he said.

It's a shift in perception that is already showing up on social media. A new racy ad was put out by 1ABVote — a movement whose aim is to stop vote splitting among progressive voters. The group released a video imagining a world where politicians are chosen on a dating app like Tindr — or in this case — Pindr.

"The narrative arc follows a couple seeking a spark and something different in their relationship, with the analogy being current state of governance in Alberta. In considering their options, we use humour to present voting options to viewers," said Brian Singh, one of the group's founder, in a release. 

Time for change?

He says the main driver for change in Alberta is the sense that the PCs have simply been in power for too long.

So far it may be working, as support for the NDP and their leader Rachel Notley is surging.

The only televised leadership debate in this campaign was held tonight. It will be a chance for the leaders in this three-way race to separate themselves from the pack.

Of course the biggest obstacle to political change in Alberta is likely voter apathy, which is a problem fuelled by another hotly-contested race: the Calgary Flames in the NHL playoffs.

With files from CBC's Erin Collins

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