So there is one week to go in the 2015 election and if you’re reading this you’ll realize that my resolve not to blog during the 2015 election wasn’t as firm as I thought it was.
Let’s start by setting a couple of things straight. The polls in 2012 weren’t wrong. They were actually quite accurate. The shift that occurred in the last 72 hours of the campaign – from Wildrose to PC – may well have been unprecedented in Alberta, or perhaps even Canadian political history, but it happened. And it happened largely after the final media polls were out of the field, so it went un-measured by those pollsters and therefore unreported. Internal polls captured much of the movement, which gained momentum even after we were out of the field as well.
The second thing to understand is that the Wildrose lost the 2012 election. The PC’s didn’t win. Trust me on that. I was co-chair of the PC’s 2012 campaign. I had a front row seat. It was not a fun show to watch, though I did like the ending. The Wildrose lost for reasons now well-understood, from ‘lake of fire’, to ‘white candidates being better able to represent voters’, to Wildrose leadership taking the position that candidates would be able to freely ‘speak their mind’, no matter how intolerant, in a Wildrose government. It was that last position that lost it for Wildrose not the eruptions that preceded it. My opinion, of course.
Why is that relevant today? It’s relevant because the polls today aren’t wrong. When the headline reads: NDP Majority Within Reach, as headlines will sometime this week, it’s because an NDP majority is, well, within reach. Of course that’s nonsense, or that’s what we’ll be told, what we’ll believe, or at least what those of us who are centre or right of centre will want to believe. But it’s true. It is true today and the polls are just catching up.
So is an NDP majority a problem? [cue the ‘scare tactics’ stories] Well the short answer is not ‘it depends’. The answer isn’t ‘if you’re NDP it’s great, if you’re PC or Wildrose it’s not’, and so on. Trust me, that’s the easy answer but it’s wrong. The reality is a bit more complicated.
Another answer that’s wrong is ‘well, it depends on whether they follow through with their stated policies’. That may be closer to the truth, but it’s also wrong because the answer is far more time sensitive than that.
An NDP majority is a problem because we think it’s a problem. Now to be fair, I’m using ‘we’ in a not entirely inclusive context. An NDP majority is a problem because business and investors (which is most of us, when you include small business owners, market participants and even most pension beneficiaries) believe the NDP will be disastrous for the economy. In other words an NDP majority government would be dangerous because that belief alone would be disastrous for the economy.
The problem is that Alberta doesn’t exist in a vacuum. For years the Alberta economy boomed because business and investors avoided Saskatchewan and BC and sought out similar opportunities in Alberta. Saskatchewan and BC, in those days, had NDP governments. Given a choice, business flocked to Alberta and Alberta’s resources were developed. Investment means jobs, jobs mean prosperity. Alberta profited at Saskatchewan’s, and BC’s, expense.
Which brings us to today. We have conservative governments in both Saskatchewan and BC (O.K., they’re Liberal in BC, but it’s common knowledge that they’re not liberal). If Alberta becomes a bad place to do business, Brad Wall is there with open arms. With a reliable, steady, business climate, resources to be developed and a similar labour pool. This game works both ways, and no one would welcome an NDP government in Alberta more than Premier Wall (privately that is – he’s a smart guy). He’s probably already booked a room at the Hyatt for next week to meet with industry leaders. Premier Clark too, but given the time change she’ll be a couple of hours late.
In today’s world, business can shift focus, and investment, almost overnight. Investors can bail on Alberta companies even faster. Just pop online and enter a sell order. It takes longer for skilled labour to follow investment, but not that long. If you lived in Alberta 10 years ago, you know how many Saskatchewanians relocated to Alberta. Jobs are created by investment.
So is that what happened in Ontario under Premier Rae, Saskatchewan under Premier Calvert or BC under Premier’s Harcourt, Clark, et al? That’s a good question. Was it NDP policies that caused business to avoid their jurisdictions or was it the perception of increased instability, increased risk? Or was it both?
Are the Notley policies really that scary? A few of them may be, but honestly that’s not the problem. Business and investors will make up their mind on election night or shortly thereafter – before the first NDP budget, or their promised royalty review, or Premier Notley’s first reversals (when she announces she’s going to Washington after all, or limiting her royalty review to just part of the regime, etc.). The damage will be done long before any of that.
Will the NDP win a majority? A minority? Will they finish second or even third? Who knows. A week is an eternity in politics and studies show that few voters pay attention until the latter stages of the campaign. But the NDP rise can’t be denied and voters are now facing a real choice of very different philosophies when they cast their ballots. It is a choice many will make as early as this week in advance polls.
Now, I’m not part of the 2015 PC campaign and, frankly, I’m not sure this analysis helps them much. Many voters will be unaffected by these considerations and who knows whether voters who want to stop the NDP will turn to the PC’s or the Wildrose in key ridings. But I am sure that an NDP majority is a problem, because, well, an NDP majority is a problem.
That may or may not be fair, but a review of history tells us how investors view the world – like it or not.