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
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.
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.
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.