Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What Was Jim's Gamble?

I've made a huge mistake.
 I've been asking this question to myself over the last few days as we see more and more polls come out showing the longest-serving government in Canadian history about to be crushed in the voter's mad rush towards the polls this May. Its been a tough go trying to get into the mind of the man who could be the end of the Alberta PC dynasty, Jim Prentice.

Honestly, what was he thinking when he called this election?

Let me set up the situation for you: you are the newly installed PC Premier, taking over from an incompetent who tanked your numbers  and nearly lost the last election. You're a seasoned political veteran as well, who has been a federal cabinet minister and have also worked extensively in the private sector, so you know your way around.

Within a few months of taking over as Premier, an economic crisis hits and your main resource sector starts tumbling down. Despite this, you reversed your party's decline in the polls and won four by-elections in held ridings, by-elections that included the recruiting of two high-profile candidates, so your brand is clearly not that tainted. Then, in an even bigger coup, you snag eleven Opposition MLAs, including the popular former Opposition Leader who accedes to your every demand and doesn't even get a cabinet seat. You are, essentially, untouchable at this point.

Unfortunately because of the economy, your government has to introduce a budget that isn't so popular, raising taxes and going into deficit, things that are anathema to your political ideology and so on. However, you still have over a year until the next election must be called, and you are not in any danger of losing the confidence of the Legislature, holding 70 of the 87 seats available.

Got all that? Good, because then you call an election.

The question is why. What set of numbers did you see and what calculation did you make that caused you to give up a whole year of governing and bet on a risky election call?

Here are the possibilities I've come up with so far:

1) I was presented with internal polling and surveys that showed my party with an advantage on most if not all issues, and my opposition unprepared and unknown, despite the budget and economy. Not willing to risk losing that advantage with a year for the opposition to field test effective narratives against me or become prepared, I call the election.

2) I was presented with numbers showing that things were going to get worse before they got better, and if I called an election now I might be able to salvage a narrow mandate rather than definitely lose it come 2016.

3) Some internal issue - simmering divisions within caucus and/or the party, for example - forced my hand and I had to call an election now and establish my control through a win that seems probable (much how Clark and Redford did) before things get out of hand.

4) Some external issue - i.e., the economy - forced my hand, and I'd rather have a secure four years to govern than just one.

5) I'm insane. Lets get on a dolphin and fly to Mars.

My bet is probably on a combination of 1) and 4) (though I will not rule out 5)). For Prentice to have called this election, there must have been some numbers and data that showed he had a serious advantage over his opponents and it was better to go now than let the economy decide his fate in a year's time. If so, then I'd love to see the numbers he was looking at, and whether they're still holding against the onslaught of the Wildrosers and New Democrats, and we're just looking at another 2012 situation for pollsters.

Anyone else got any ideas?


  1. I think you have missed one very important factor: Governments who wait until their fifth year to call an election have a very poor track record; Kim Campbell, Rita Johnson (BC), Ujjal donsanjh (BC), Ernie Eves (Ont), Frank Miller (Ont), to name a few all lost re-election. Off the top of my head the only premier I can recall winning an election in the fifth year of a Government's mandate was Glen Clark (BC) in 1996.

    1. And of course I shouldn't forget Bob Rae who lost the 1995 election

    2. Technically, 2016 was the year Prentice had to call an election, that's only four years - but I get your point. Personally, though there is something of a trend as you pointed out, I think every election is unique, and plenty of new leaders taking over from another and then waited to call an election have won - Christy Clark and Redford, for example, waited; as did Selinger, Klein, Stelmach, Calvert, etc.

  2. Prentice called an election to renew his government's mandate. The PCs were doing well in the polls, while the Wildrose and Liberals were in crisis mode. Also, Prentice wanted to bring in new PC MLAs. The current cabinet was somewhat weak, so he wanted to add more strength to it.

    If Prentice had won a majority. It would have been his mandate to take the province which ever direction he wanted it too.

    I think two factors sunk Prentice. The way he handled the Wildrose floor crossings and his "look into the mirror" comments. Both gave a vibe that he was acting like a king and not a provincial premier.

    Albertans are pissed. There will be no strategic voting to keep the Wildrose or NDP out. If strategic voting occurs. It would be to see who is the best candidate to defeat the PC incumbent.

    The only other time such a plan backfired to a great extent was the 1990 election in Ontario. Peterson and the Liberals were seen as invincible, the Tories were weak and the NDP was not seen as a threat to power. The economy was a little shaky, so Peterson wanted to renew his mandate. It came off as arrogance and he paid for it at the polls. Peterson lost his seat, a Liberal stronghold, to the NDP too.

  3. Jimmy seems to have always wanted to be leader at any cost. He constantly changed his story, his motivation and his 'ideals'.

    If you can't find someone with ethics, find someone with ambition.