ELEC­TION SEA­SON MAY AR­RIVE SOONER THAN MANY EX­PECT

De­ci­sion is up to Not­ley, but there are signs the call could come in just seven weeks

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - KEITH GEREIN [email protected]­media.com twit­ter.com/kei­thgerein

Forty-nine more days.

It’s barely a blip in the win­ter, a span long enough for only two more full moons to ap­pear.

Or, for the less as­tro­nom­i­cally in­clined, less than one-quar­ter of a sea­son for the Oil­ers and Flames.

Whether you mark time by the moon or Con­nor McDavid, 49 days is all that re­mains be­fore an elec­tion cam­paign could be un­der­way in Al­berta.

Let that sink in. Un­for­tu­nately, with­out fixed elec­tion dates, we don’t yet know when the vote will be called.

The de­ci­sion rests solely with Pre­mier Rachel Not­ley, and so far she isn’t giv­ing hints ex­cept to con­firm it will oc­cur dur­ing the time frame man­dated by provin­cial leg­is­la­tion.

That leg­is­la­tion calls for elec­tions ev­ery four years be­tween March 1 and May 31. The choice of the ear­li­est date would mean the writ could be dropped as soon as Feb. 1, just seven weeks away.

If that hap­pens, there won’t be time for the govern­ment to hold a spring ses­sion.

Which would mean the fall ses­sion that just con­cluded could be the last un­der the cur­rent govern­ment.

That’s why you may have seen a num­ber of MLAs say­ing their farewells last week, es­pe­cially those who have de­cided not to seek re-elec­tion. Among them was NDP house leader Brian Ma­son, who got choked up as he re­ceived an ova­tion from his col­leagues.

Did Ma­son’s emo­tional dis­play hint that an ear­lier elec­tion is com­ing?

No, said Ma­son, who in­sisted he had no idea what date the pre­mier might be con­tem­plat­ing.

“Just in case, ev­ery­body was hedg­ing their bets,” he said.

Ma­son ac­tu­ally told the cham­ber he thinks MLAs will be back for a spring sit­ting, which would be to the dis­plea­sure of Ja­son Ken­ney.

The United Con­ser­va­tive Party leader is de­mand­ing a March 1 vote, so that the NDP not pro­long the in­evitable by hav­ing MLAs sit through a “lame duck” ses­sion.

It’s also no co­in­ci­dence that an ear­lier elec­tion favours Ken­ney, since the UCP is cur­rently well ahead in the polls and would pre­fer to get the vote over with be­fore the NDP has a chance to re­cover.

Whether a re­cov­ery is even pos­si­ble re­mains to be seen, but there are a num­ber of rea­sons why Not­ley is bet­ter served by de­lay­ing an elec­tion un­til late April or May.

Po­lit­i­cal strate­gists note there are nu­mer­ous vari­ables that go into de­ter­min­ing when to call an elec­tion.

Those can in­clude cal­cu­la­tions of when re­tired Al­ber­tans are likely to be back home af­ter their win­ter stays in Ari­zona or Florida, and cal­cu­la­tions of when stu­dents are fin­ished their fi­nal ex­ams.

Some of the sce­nar­ios likely also con­tem­plate the ef­fect of those afore­men­tioned Oil­ers and Flames. As the the­ory goes, hockey fans in the throes of a spring play­off run will be less fo­cused on pol­i­tics, and may not even vote if elec­tion day co­in­cides with a key game.

Those fac­tors aside, the main rea­son Not­ley is likely to wait on an elec­tion call is that it pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity for some bet­ter news to emerge on pipe­lines and the econ­omy.

Right now, the news couldn’t be much worse.

The Trans Moun­tain project is mired in con­sul­ta­tions with­out an end date, and Not­ley re­cently had to or­der manda­tory oil pro­duc­tion cuts to stop Al­berta’s crude be­ing sold for peanuts.

Lit­tle is likely to change by Fe­bru­ary. But by May, there is at least a faint chance Al­berta could see bet­ter unem­ploy­ment num­bers, a sus­tained resur­gence in en­ergy prices and progress on the pipe­line front.

The pre­mier is also un­doubt­edly aware that the next fis­cal up­date is set to be de­liv­ered by the end of Fe­bru­ary. That one isn’t go­ing to be pretty, since it cov­ers the pe­riod when oil prices were in the tank.

De­liv­er­ing that news shortly be­fore an early March elec­tion would be dev­as­tat­ing for the NDP, which is an­other rea­son Not­ley is likely to wait.

A later elec­tion means the NDP would have to go to the trou­ble of a spring ses­sion and a bud­get, which could give the Op­po­si­tion more am­mu­ni­tion.

But a ses­sion would also give the govern­ment a chance to go on the of­fen­sive by in­tro­duc­ing bills that could prove un­com­fort­able for the UCP.

That could in­clude leg­is­la­tion to out­law con­ver­sion ther­apy, a bill that was sup­posed to be de­bated in the fall ses­sion but mys­te­ri­ously fell off the agenda.

Whether the writ is dropped in 49 days or 149 days, Al­ber­tans should brace them­selves for the un­of­fi­cial elec­tion race to be­gin right af­ter New Year’s.

Al­ready, par­ties are pol­ish­ing their plat­forms and fi­nal­iz­ing their slate of can­di­dates. Con­stituen­cies are stak­ing out cam­paign of­fices and po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees are ready­ing their next ad­ver­tis­ing blitz.

My ad­vice?

En­joy the hol­i­days while you can, be­cause it won’t be long be­fore the lights of Christ­mas are gone in favour of the lawn signs of an elec­tion.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/FILES

United Con­ser­va­tive Party Leader Ja­son Ken­ney wants a March 1 elec­tion date but it will be bet­ter for Pre­mier Rachel Not­ley to set it later, writes colum­nist Keith Gerein.

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