Alberta Election 2023: Another Miracle on the Prairies

Wild swings in pre-election polls left UCP leader Danielle Smith harkening back to the days of Ralph Klein, declaring the UCP victory another “miracle on the prairies” in her victory speech.

In an election where arguably both leaders were less popular than the parties they head, the UCP emerged victorious with a reduced majority, winning 49 out of 87 seats, and 53% of the popular vote.

What Changed?

In many respects the 2023 race felt like a bit of de ja vu. The message that urban UCP candidates heard at the door was very similar to what they heard in 2019. Local UCP candidates were well liked, but there was a distrust and dislike of the Party Leader.

In 2019 under Jason Kenney, the UCP won 55% of the popular vote, and 63 seats. So, while the 2023 version of the UCP won significantly fewer seats and lost support in urban ridings, their share of the popular vote was consistent, suggesting rural seats were won with even greater margins.

Close Races

It was clear early in the evening that the UCP would hold government, but there were a number of close races that see-sawed back and forth through the night, including Justice Minister Tyler Shandro who ended up 7 votes short, setting up a likely re-count.

The results highlighted the tension between rural versus urban voters, with several high-profile urban UCP losses including Health Minister Jason Copping, Edmonton based Deputy Premier Kaycee Madu, Minister of Seniors Community and Social Services Jeremy Nixon, and Culture Minister Jason Luan. The NDP turned over half of the Calgary seats orange, winning 14 out of 26 seats.

NDP Leadership an Open Question

Notley’s concession speech was emotional, leaving many wondering whether her resignation is imminent. It seems clear that a centrist “blank slate” NDP leader who didn’t have to defend Notley’s record would have been significantly more successful than the NDP under Notley, and potentially would have won government.

There were attempts throughout the campaign to spark comparisons between the NDP platform and former centrist Premier Lougheed’s policies from days gone by. This tactic becomes harder as time goes by, and fewer Albertans remember Lougheed; however, if the NDP were able to elect a centrist leader with appeal for both Edmonton and Calgary voters, then potentially the rural/urban split could go in their favor in 2027.

The Road Ahead

Key priorities for the Smith government will continue to be:

  • diversifying the Alberta economy,
  • dealing with the affordability crisis,
  • improvements to health care and addictions treatment, and
  • the intergovernmental file – especially given the expectation that the federal government will shortly take more legislative shots at Alberta’s oil and gas industry, while simultaneously dropping billions in subsidies on EV focused companies in Ontario.

The Sovereignty Act, which Smith tabled and passed pre-election, was a watered-down version of her earlier musings, leaving questions as to the levers she can pull to protect against the expected federal incursion.

During the campaign, particularly in urban ridings, there were frequently questions from voters about a “hidden agenda”, with UCP candidates reassuring voters they were only going to implement their platform and pre-election budget.

In the short term at least, any movement beyond these boundaries will make urban caucus members cranky. We expect that maintaining caucus solidarity will be a focus for the Leader, particularly in the face of potentially divisive forces like the Take Back Alberta group.

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