2015-05-03 19:23:08 UTC
Andrew Coyne: We’ve seen this quite a bit lately in our politics.
People are fed up with being lied to, fed up with politicians taking them for
fools, fed up altogether with too-clever-by-half
Andrew Coyne: Jim Prentice undone when trust became key factor in Alberta election
Even now, no one can quite believe it. A half dozen polls in the last couple
of days all show the NDP leading in the Alberta election by an average margin
of 15 points. The pollsters have taken to speaking outright of an NDP majority.
And yet a majority of those polled — the same sample group that has the
Progressive Conservatives scraping 20 per cent support — still say they think
the PCs will somehow find a way to win again. And not only them: the mayor of
Calgary, leading provincial columnists, everyone’s hedging their bets. They
have, after all, been burned before. As have we all.
Still, there is reason to think this election will prove different from the
last, when the Tories reversed a 10-point deficit in the campaign’s last three
days. Then, the PCs faced but one serious opponent, the right-wing Wildrose
Party; this time, their support has been eaten away at both ends.
Then, the Wildrose contributed mightily to voter misgivings with ill-timed
outbursts (see: “lake of fire”) from errant candidates; no such self-immolation
seems in the offing this time. And then, the economy was strong, and the
appetite for ejecting incumbents in favour of an untested opposition weaker;
now, people may feel they have less to lose.
So while there is ample reason to be skeptical of predictions of an NDP
majority — the party’s support is heavily concentrated in Edmonton, where a lot
of its vote will be “wasted” racking up huge majorities rather than winning
seats elsewhere, while on past form many of its supporters among the 18-34
cohort will not show up to vote — it seems hard to believe it will not at least
emerge with a plurality. Though whether that means it will form a government
is another question: there may be many a slip ’twixt that cup and lip.
At the very least, then, if the polls are to be believed at all — I said if —
this election will have proved to be a sharp, if not unprecedented rebuke to
the PCs. While it’s possible to look at the results in simple left-right
terms — the left vote has united, while the right is divided — this election
has turned out to be much more a referendum on PC rule than anything else.
Put simply, after 44 years a significant section of the electorate has decided
it really is “time for a change.”
Those centre-left voters who abandoned the Liberals to support Alison Redford’s
Tories in 2012, in part to keep the Wildrose out, have this time decamped for
the NDP — to keep the Tories out.
At the same time, anti-PC voters who had parked their support with the Wildrose
appear to have taken a good look at the leaders in the televised debate, and
decided the Wildrose’s Brian Jean, less than a month into the job, was not
ready, when compared with the NDP’s assured and likeable Rachel Notley.
If this election is a referendum on the PCs, it is even more a referendum
on the leadership of Jim Prentice
In other words, a significant number of voters appear to have decided a) this
election is about getting rid of the PCs, and b) the NDP are the best vehicle
for achieving this. That a substantial number of these have switched to the
NDP from the Wildrose tells you how broadly unideological this election has
been. But it’s still a remarkable development, for a party that has usually
struggled to win more than a couple of seats in the legislature. For a critical
mass of voters, it is now viewed as the least scary option among the three.
If this election is a referendum on the PCs, it is even more a referendum on
the leadership of Jim Prentice. For a time, after he became leader, it seemed
he could do no wrong — so much so, that he was able to induce the then leader
of the Wildrose, Danielle Smith, and eight of her colleagues to cross the floor
and throw in their lot with him.
But hubris precedes nemesis: the moment of Prentice’s maximum triumph may very
well have marked him in the public’s mind as “too clever by half.”