Alberta election a dry run for Manitoba?
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Manitobans will be closely following the political battle in Alberta this month. That province’s May 29 election will set the course for the largest and most prosperous of the Prairie provinces. The Alberta contest may also suggest how ruling Conservatives and opposition New Democrats are faring ahead of Manitoba’s fall election.
In both provinces, the rural-based Conservatives and the urban-centred socialists are fairly evenly matched in public support. Public impatience with Conservative premiers Danielle Smith in Alberta and Heather Stefanson in Manitoba might bring the NDP to power in both Edmonton and Winnipeg during the next six months. Fear of economic damage from the anti-business instincts of the NDP might, however, keep the Conservatives in power in either province.
Both Conservative parties dumped their leaders, Alberta’s Jason Kenny and Manitoba’s Brian Pallister. Mr. Kenney lost his own party’s support because he was not stridently enough anti-Ottawa and anti-vaccine for the angriest segment of his party. Mr. Pallister fell into disfavour because his cuts to health care produced disastrous results when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province.
Ms. Smith has used her six months in office to reassure the anti-vaccine activists that she hates the federal government as much as they do. Ms. Stefanson, during her 18 months in power, has been trying to persuade the public that she is a kinder, gentler Conservative, less extreme than Mr. Pallister.
Both New Democratic parties have been playing a cautious, careful game, appearing as bland and inoffensive as possible, counting on the ruling Conservatives to defeat themselves. Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley is well-known to the public having served as premier from 2015 to 2019. Wab Kinew in Manitoba, less known to the public, is more vulnerable to Conservative warnings about his character and leanings.
Alberta has for decades been the great economic engine of Canada’s Prairie region. When employment stagnates in Manitoba, Alberta is always available as a greener pasture for young job-seekers. The individualistic, anti-government culture that prevails in Alberta takes some getting used to for economic refugees from collectivist Manitoba, but the westward migratory stream continues anyway, year-in and year-out.
Canadian voters have been kind to their provincial governments in the post-COVID era. Since the pandemic struck, they have re-elected governments in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. Only Nova Scotia dumped its premier, Liberal Ian Rankin.
This year, Alberta and Manitoba are at last holding their post-pandemic elections. Pandemic management is an issue in both provinces — too much vaccination in Alberta, too many cuts to health care in Manitoba. These elections may show whether the public in these two provinces think their governments were too energetic or too passive in curtailing the spread of COVID-19.
The local political cultures and the personalities are so different between Alberta and Manitoba that the Alberta result in May will not exactly predict the Manitoba result in October. There may, however, be a degree of impatience with the ruling Conservatives in both provinces that will put wind in the sails of the New Democrats.
The NDP ruled both provinces recently enough under Rachel Notley and Greg Selinger, however, that people’s reasons for getting rid of those governments may still be fresh in their minds.
Either way, whoops of joy will be heard from one Manitoba party or the other if they see their political allies win in Alberta.