We're in the election homestretch. Polls are indicating that change is in the air in Alberta.
But is it really?
The Leader debate was last night.
Interim Liberal Party Leader David Swann was irrelevant and barely present. By all accounts, New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader, Rachel Notley, is widely regarded as the debate winner, however, for those watching very closely, a far more subtle and significant dynamic emerged between Progressive Conservative (PC) Leader Jim Prentice and Wildrose Party Leader (WRP) Brian Jean.
Jean was unimpressive, constantly droning his single key message (much to the annoyance of thousands following #abvotes on Twitter): "We will not raise taxes."
(Yes, we heard you the first ten times. Yawn.)
Prentice physically turned his back to Jean -- effectively sidelining Jean -- and the debate continued between Prentice and Notley. Whether Prentice won or lost against Notley, Jean's poor performance played perfectly to Prentice's benefit.
The PC electoral strategy going forward until the end of the election is now crystal clear.
The PCs have two pools of voters to draw upon:
- Left Wing voters in the NDP, Liberal Party, Alberta Party, and Green Party or
- Right Wing voters in the WRP.
In the last election, PCs chose the former; this time, they have chosen the latter.
To win the election, Prentice doesn't have to defeat Notley on the Left, he simply has to prove to the Right that he is a better conservative than Jean.
He attempted that last night.
Now, the real question is: Was Prentice effective enough?
In 2012, the Left held their collective noses and voted PC and for what they hoped was a more centrist Alison Redford in order to fend off the large swing to the social right posed by the WRP. Alison Redford betrayed the Left. The trust evaporated. There are no votes to be had for PCs here.
Unless Jean can suddenly transform his single note into a symphony in the next two weeks, disaffected PCs who jumped ship to the WRP will now have to ask themselves in the voting booth: Which party can really represent my interests? So Prentice's new narrative until Election Day will be: "I am the only credible voice for the conservative Right."
He just has to be louder than Jean in his opposition to Notley. (Cue the PC media war chest.)
Can Prentice get the Right to hold their collective noses in 2015? The answer to that question will decide the election.
Things are still very much in flux. This much we do know:
- Debate winners aren't necessarily election winners.
- Jean and the WRP are now on the defensive and have everything to lose.
- Alberta will have a strong opposition, which is good for democracy.
- The PCs are not out of the race.
What we don't know is whether the PC strategy of scraping votes from the Right will be sufficient to preserve the PC dynasty for a 13th term and a 45th year.
The next round of polls will be very telling.
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