Did Alberta spoil PM Harper’s election plan?

Never ever take political victory for granted.

It would seem the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party overestimated their own popularity while underestimating the force of the growing orange wave which gave the NDP a strong majority government:  54 of the 87 ridings in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly will now sport the colours of Jack Layton’s party.

Apparently, that was Premier Jim Prentice’s grave miscalculation. He took it for granted that the voters in Alberta, traditionally the heartland of Canada’s Conservative loyalists, would give him a resounding victory and a full mandate to take the province forward with his agenda.

Stunned by the defeat, Prentice resigned election night as party leader and as a newly re-elected MLA.

In the midst of a cataclysmic drop in Alberta’s economic fortunes, he imposed a new and more burdensome tax regime on a population unaccustomed to much taxation. Without consulting and winning the support of his own political foot-soldiers, he unsuccessfully “welcomed” into his party and government the leader and seven other members of the then Opposition Wildrose Party. He even went so far as to suggest to Albertans that they, not his governing party, were to blame for Alberta’s economic woes.

Was that political hubris on his part? Will it taint the Conservative brand in Alberta in such a way as to turn the province’s Conservative voters away from supporting Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s party in this year’s federal election? Yes, there is clear evidence of hubris. But no, there are two totally opposite views on the implications of this new provincial voting pattern for the federal election of 2015.

The first view isolates the Conservatives’ defeat in Alberta from any profound change in the political allegiance of Albertans. This school of thought argues that the calling of an “unnecessary” election, after introducing a budget that raised taxes for the public but not for the business sector, amounted to two blunders made by Prentice, not by Harper. Their argument is that the provincial segment of Alberta’s Conservative voters rebelled against Prentice for his insensitivity to their financial plight in a tanking economy and for presuming that their support for him and his policies would be automatic.

Some of those in this camp remind us that voters do not necessarily vote for the same party in both provincial and federal contests.

On the other hand, the second group presents the NDP victory as a lasting reflection of the changes that have occurred in Alberta over the past 10 years or so. This view attributes the growing support for the NDP to the very significant increase in the size and proportion of the “visible minorities” and of the young voters in the province’s population.

Whether from other parts of Canada or outside of Canada, the migrants and immigrants are seen as new Albertans not tied to the Conservative dynasty that has held sway in Alberta almost 44 years. This second group’s perspective is all the more credible in the face of the NDP’s impressive showing in Alberta’s two largest urban centres: a strong performance in the City of Calgary and a clean sweep in the City of Edmonton.

This second group’s view is shared by the majority of analysts. The consensus is therefore that the political spanking of the Conservatives in Alberta’s provincial election will have a significant spillover into the federal election. NDP premier-elect, the invigorating and invigorated Rachel Notley, has indicated her government will review the royalties for oil and gas companies, increase corporate taxes, introduce stronger environmental rules and stop spending taxpayers’ money to promote the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines.

If these new policies find favour with Albertans in the next few months, then they are unlikely to vote for Conservative candidates in the federal election.

One more nail in Mr. Harper’s political coffin.