Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Some thoughts on Naheed Nenshi's 3rd term win

Tonight's municipal elections in Alberta, which featured both excitement and utter boredom, also have some lessons in store for the various political parties out in Alberta and beyond.

It's pretty obvious that the race between Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and main rival Bill Smith was a chance for the now-united Conservatives in the province to test messages and campaigns in what will be the crucial battleground come 2019. Smith and his backers tried their best to tie Nenshi to the broader left and ran on fairly divisive rhetoric, though of course nothing near Trump or even Ford, but rather the standard old centre-right lines of taxes and left-wing cliches (bike lanes everywhere, bureaucracy, you get it).

It obviously didn't work and Nenshi was able to secure a fairly easy victory, despite the fact that he didn't have the benefit of a vote split as he did in 2010 (2014 doesn't count in my opinion). Calgary's centre-right threw a lot behind the little-known Smith, boosting him up in ways I doubt even he expected. Likely his campaign was crippled by it's secrecy surrounding donors and the overt involvement of developers and the rather-disliked NHL on the arena issue, and had a better and more open - or at least hands-off - campaign been run, Nenshi might've been in more trouble.

The takeaway from all this is that the NDP's political grave has not been dug yet just because the centre-right has united. It's clear Calgarians are willing to vote for progressive continuity, but it will depend greatly on how Notley and her party frames it and how much they want it.

I also suspect it will help the NDP more that voters will be given a clearer choice in the next election.

Think of it this way - clearly voters were looking for some sort of change in Calgary, but the race became far too polarized between Nenshi and Smith, and some of the "change" voters worried about Smith held their noses and kept Nenshi in. That segment of voters exists out there, and the race is close enough that even if it was just a small part, we could have had a different outcome. Had Andre Chabot ran a stronger campaign, earning say around 10% rather than just 3%, those change voters that went Nenshi may have gone to him instead.

Come 2019, we're going to see some major polarization between the NDP and the Conservatives, and it may just be more helpful to Notley than Kenney or Jean. If too many voters are worried about what the Conservatives will do, even if they don't like the NDP all that much, they may hold their noses and pick orange anyway.

Of course, this is all speculation, and there are some serious differences between Nenshi and the NDP. The major one is that it would really help if Notley and the NDP actually had a transformative record to run on, but I've seen no moves towards ambitious reforms and no defining of a brand around a particular cause or mindset. If anything, the Alberta NDP remind me of the PCs! Specifically the Stelmach/Redford PCs. An old party in power that just wants to get through the day in one piece, not change agents handed the reigns to bring about something new and different. There is still time though guys.

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