There are still more than three months until the next provincial election in Alberta, assuming Premier Danielle Smith sticks with the scheduled May 29, 2023 date. But if you’re an NDP supporter, much less one of its senior strategists, the latest in a series of favourable polls for the government should have you worried. Smith has managed to pull her party out of the tailspin that former premier Jason Kenney was piloting and looks increasingly like she’ll be able to land on the electoral runway in one piece.

This can't be the outcome NDP stalwarts imagined just a few months ago when Smith won the leadership in a surprisingly unconvincing fashion. Her penchant for saying outrageous things — “spacewalks,” as Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell has taken to calling them — and obvious kinship with the province’s anti-vaccine movement made the NDP’s strategy obvious: stand back and wait for the new premier to step in it. After all, given her past, it was only a matter of time.

Instead, Smith has largely abandoned her lunar excursions and focused instead on appealing to a broader swath of Albertans. Yes, she tossed a few ideological bones to the far right, firing former chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and appointing Preston Manning to run a ludicrous COVID-19 inquiry. But by and large, her focus has been on the things Albertans (and especially Calgarians) care about: creating jobs, funding social programs and picking fights with Justin Trudeau.

The federal government has been conspicuously accommodating there, both by advancing its clumsily titled “just transition” legislation and occasionally clapping back at Smith’s predictably overwrought interventions.

As I wrote a little while ago, it almost seems like the feds want Smith to win the next election as much as she does. Either way, this has forced the NDP to try to match, or at least mitigate, Smith’s anti-Ottawa rhetoric. And as we saw with NDP Leader Rachel Notley’s belated criticism of the just transition legislation or her description of Alberta’s oil and gas sector as “the world’s most progressive energy producer,” it comes off with all the authenticity of a third-rate cover band.

The results speak for themselves. In a new Abacus Data poll, Smith’s United Conservative Party is now polling ahead provincewide, with more than half of the undecided former UCP voters they identified in December coming back into the fold. “As of now, Danielle Smith appears less risky than she did to many in December,” Abacus CEO David Coletto wrote. “The UCP’s effort to rebuild its landslide-creating coalition is bearing fruit. There are still plenty of Reluctant UCPers to convert, but they are much closer to locking in re-election than appeared when we last measured opinions in December.”

For anyone who worked on (or even near) the 2013 BC NDP campaign, this is probably triggering some political PTSD. In that election, they went into the writ period with a double-digit lead over the BC Liberals, who had swapped out their own unpopular leader (Gordon Campbell) for a charismatic ex-politician-turned-radio-host (Christy Clark).

An internal report commissioned by the BC NDP in the wake of its unexpected defeat described the path to victory for Clark’s Liberals — one that sounds awfully familiar to the one Smith is trying to walk right now. "While their promises were paper-thin and their track record as a government was deplorable, their strategic approach in the campaign was to downplay all of those weaknesses and emphasize a message that played well with voters. In the end, it worked."

If Notley’s NDP wants to avoid repeating this history, they have to stop running the same sort of cautious and complacent campaign that Adrian Dix did back in 2013. Counting on Smith to put the puck in her own political net isn’t going to get it done, even if the odds are in favour of it happening. And letting her frame the debate is a good way to lose control of it, as anyone who ran against her for the leader of the UCP last year can attest.

Rachel Notley's NDP is suddenly trailing the United Conservative Party — and the provincial election is just a few months away. Can she turn things around before it's too late? Columnist @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver

They also need to stop running a campaign that’s better suited for downtown Edmonton than suburban Calgary. Trying to scare voters about the UCP’s nefarious plans for public health care probably plays well in a city whose economy is driven by government services and employees, but it’s far less likely to resonate in the swing ridings in non-downtown Calgary that will determine the election outcome.

That’s especially true when attitudes about health care are shifting faster than they have in generations. According to a January Ipsos poll, 59 per cent of Canadians support the idea of private delivery for publicly funded health services. “This is the first time I can recall in which you actually got numbers like that, where you’d have a majority of Canadians saying they’re open to considering private methods of delivery,” Ipsos CEO Darrell Bricker told Global News. You can be sure that those numbers are higher in Calgary than they are in Edmonton.

There’s still time for Notley to read the room, course-correct her campaign and tell a compelling story about the province’s future. She could take control of the narrative by announcing her plans for the province’s massive $12-billion budget surplus or the combined $10.9 billion it’s expected to post over the next two years. She could take a much harder stance against the massive giveaway Smith is planning to deliver to the province’s oil industry — one that starts at $100 million and could eventually reach $20 billion. And she could get ahead of an announcement on a new arena deal that feels imminent, one that could paint her into another tough corner when it comes to winning over Calgary voters.

Either way, she needs to do something different.

The BC NDP eventually recovered from its 2013 debacle, forming government and then winning a crushing majority in 2020. But that was under a new leader and after four more years of a BC Liberal government. History may not repeat itself, but it sure seems like it’s setting up to rhyme come this May.

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"And as we saw with NDP Leader Rachel Notley’s belated criticism of the just transition legislation or her description of Alberta’s oil and gas sector as 'the world’s most progressive energy producer,' it comes off with all the authenticity of a third-rate cover band."

Notley's NDP seems to have learned nothing from the last election debacle.
No one did more to fuel pipeline hysteria in this province than Notley. The same hysteria swept the NDP away in the 2019 election.
With no hopes for re-election against a united Conservative party, the NDP had nothing to gain by shifting right. Facing off against a united conservative party, Notley was always a one-term premier -- but her alliance with Big Oil did nothing to help the NDP and the progressive cause in AB.

Pandering to fossil fuel dinosaurs just fed the right-wing frenzy. Stoking Albertans' perennial resentment over pipelines and everything else under the sun only helped the UCP. Most pipeline boosters would not vote NDP if Notley built a billion pipelines. Right-wingers who want oil industry flunkies in power will vote for the real thing. Notley only alienated progressives.
The more Notley fought for pipelines, the more she fanned the flames of anger among Albertans.
A pipeline project became the rallying flag for Albertans, whose sense of grievance against Ottawa burns eternal. Fuelling the right-wing rage machine.

As pundits and politicians recognized at the time:
David Climenhaga: "Indeed, the more [Notley] fights for the pipeline, the stronger Mr. Kenney seems to get because the file is seen, however wrongfully, by too many voters as a United Conservative Party strength.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney: "I've never believed there is a large number of Alberta voters whose ballot question is energy or pipelines who are likely to vote for the NDP. The NDP electorate is not people who get up in the morning passionate about pipelines and energy."

Reakash Walters, federal NDP candidate in Edmonton Centre 2015: "As one of two people who nominated Rachel in 2015, I am truly disappointed in the direction the provincial party has taken and that they have chosen to prioritize oil extraction in the middle of a climate crisis."

David Climenhaga: "Arguably, the law allowing Alberta to blockade shipments of fuel from refineries here to force B.C.'s government to ignore the concerns of its own voters and knuckle under to Alberta's demands for a pipeline was a moral and political failure by the NDP.
"Democracy depends on a consensus not to abuse power, and drafting legislation known in advance to violate the nation's constitution, putting that consensus at risk, amounts to moral failure.
"Hoping the belligerent attitude demanded by Mr. Kenney's Conservatives would persuade die-hard right-wingers to grant the NDP another term in office in gratitude for legislation that horrified many of its most loyal supporters was foolhardy."

Naomi Klein (06-Feb-18): "Alberta has a left-wing political party in power, one that has somehow convinced itself it can beat the right by being a better suck up to Big Oil."

Markham Hislop: "Exploiting industry difficulties for political gain helps no one but Kenney and the UCP."

I agree. We need an NDP that will stand up for the climate and appropriately tax and curtail big oil. We also need the NDP to redress the Opioid poisoning crisis in Alberta and reinstate SUS across the province. UCP policy is killing people. We need more help for the unhoused and those with mental health issues. I am sick of hearing about privatization and arenas. There are many of us progressives who are looking for real change.

Yes and yes and yes. We don't win any votes by repeating what Ms. Smith says..........and we do lose our grassroots and the people who know the most about what we need to do to secure the future. After the dustup about 'just transition',there was a poll that indicated more Albertans were strongly in favour of it than were other about 3 points. 71% to a national average of 68%.

That makes sense, as most oil workers are in Alberta.....and many of them get where we are as a planet.

In the end, even the UCP started to quibble...THEY should have the naming rights, and wanted to call it Fair Transition....just to tell those climate activists who runs things I guess. Fact remains.....whatever advisors told Notley to weigh in for more LNG pipelines and fracked wells......should be sent to climate school to learn more about the real costs of these vote getting ideas.

No one who still thinks they are viable, votes NDP....just ask your grassroots, if you're unsure about that

How is the opioid and Fentanyl deaths the Conservatives fault. You know who controls the borders right? The same guy that China has total control of.

One party: Climate Change is fake so Alberta needs to have more pipelines.

Other party: Climate Change is real so Alberta needs to have more pipelines.

It’s obvious who to vote for.

Well yeah, but it IS still obvious who you vote for, disappointing though their stance is, to very much understate it. But this BS narrative about the CPC or UCP being indistinguishable from the Liberals or NDP is NOT helping to say the least; it just fosters further alienation among the dangerously considerable cohort of "low-information" voters. They're already looking for any excuse to ignore stupid politics (they're all the same--used car salesmen) which then becomes a rationale for not even bothering to vote.

The only reason petro-progressive parties continue to engage in this behavior is because their supporters let them.
The Liberal and NDP faithful uncritically vote for their chosen parties election after election. Given their unqualified support, petro-progressive parties have no reason to change.
If the Liberals can count on the progressive vote, they will take continue to take progressive voters for granted.
Why would petro-progressive parties change their policies when progressives continue to vote for them? A vote for petro-progressive parties rewards them for past failure — and guarantees future failure.
Liberal/provincial NDP apologists are enabling climate disaster. You get what you vote for.

Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results…
The only leverage voters have over political parties is their vote (and donations of time and money). If you want change, you have to work for it.
Vote for the status quo, and the status quo is what you get.

WHO ELSE is there to "vote" for?!


That one--word comment was in direct reply to Tris. The NO really needs to upgrade its comment section to modern standards to ensure the reply function isn't buggy, and to finally get a techie on board who can install an edit function. I would go a lot further and produce online videos for international guest journo reportage.

@ Max Fawcett:

"Yes, she tossed a few ideological bones to the far right, firing former chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw..."

Dr. Hinshaw landed on both feet. So little time elapsed before the widely respected BC Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, took Hinshaw under her wing and made her CMO #2, that one rumour has it that Hinshaw and Henry were in contact about the position months before Hinshaw's departure. They work with one of the nation's best Health Ministers, Adrian Dix. Dix may have lost a long ago election as the then leader of the BC NDP, but his performance first in his years as the opposition health critic and then the now two-term Minister is quite exemplary. Henry and Dix mainly let the science guide their decisions. There is no reason to assume that Hinshaw won't do the same.

Is Alberta now seeing the beginnings of a brain drain? That won't be a surprise in the long run.

@ Max Fawcett:

"For anyone who worked on (or even near) the 2013 BC NDP campaign, this is probably triggering some political PTSD. In that election, they went into the writ period with a double-digit lead over the BC Liberals, who had swapped out their own unpopular leader (Gordon Campbell) for a charismatic ex-politician-turned-radio-host (Christy Clark)."

Yep ... and Clark lasted all of one term, blown by her arrogance, sneering sarcasm and the "We're putting children first" rhetoric while deeply cutting education budgets as Education Minister under Gordon Campbell, and then as a money grubbing Premier later.

As Premier of BC, she made a special trip to meet in private with the Calgary Petroleum Club to solicit private donations for her party. The fact she approved the Trans Mountain Pipeline project a few weeks later was said to be entirely coincidental. Uh huh.

Any Premier seeking private donor money in another province is so unseemly that you don't hear about it very often. Back in BC she gave paid private audiences to wealthy foreign real estate developers just as the housing affordability crisis was mushrooming out of hand, catalyzed in part by lax government oversight and turning the other way on shadow flipping and recording the real incomes of "poor" foreign students living in 8-figure mansions (the feds bear responsibility for that too). Ditto local developers and their desire to see rules remain lax. Her $20,000 per plate private lunches were notorious and became part of her downfall. Pay-for-access is one of the many reasons the system needs to be reformed and private money removed from politics.

Clark's continuing mockery of local Metro Vancouver mayors and thumbs-on-throat treatment of organizations like the regional transit authority contributed greatly to her demise. She first lost her seat in Vancouver's Point Grey (ironically to David Eby who is now Premier of BC), and had to go 350 km into the Interior to win a safe conservative seat during a byelection. It was obvious she sought revenge, but that sentiment bit her on the way the door after her party lost nine urban seats in the Metro. Diss the big city at your peril.

I suppose those gold-plated lunches paid off -- she landed at least one highly paid position at the board table of big companies while she concurrently enjoys one of the most generous public pensions in the world.

Once she was gone along with Harper in Ottawa, new funding formulas for unban transit and infrastructure in our cities were very quickly enacted. I hope to never see her kind of sleazy politics again.

Where's that edit button?