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May 07, 2015


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Alberta politics has always had three equal loci: Edmonton, Calgary, and the rural areas. Calgary has always voted for the business wing of the Tories, and the rural areas, for the socially conservative wing. Edmonton typically votes for liberal/left/center parties, but to no avail. This was an unbreakable lock, and it lasted for 43 years.

The whole thing unraveled with the protest Wildrose vote taking rural areas from the Tories, making it a three way race. Add in some truly epic contempt and incompetence on the part of the last two PC governments (See: Allison Redford and Jim Prentice), they sufficiently alienated Calgary (which had been trending towards the urban liberal center anyway, see Naheed Nenshi), and the NDP managed to surge the whole of Edmonton, the smaller cities, and most of Calgary, which is enough to win a majority in Alberta.

It won't last - the right wing vote is still 53% to the NDP 40%, even in this most extreme case. But for now, and for the first time since the dust bowl, my home province has a left-leaning government.

That's fascinating!

Absent more fine-grained polling data, it seems as thought Canadian parties are possibly too strong for their own good. That is, the Wildrose people went third party instead of staging a coup within the mainstream conservative party, which is what would have happened in, say, Texas.

Is that a correct summation of the key structural difference, or is there more?

For decades, the way to power for anyone from centrist to extreme right was to join the Tories, because there was simply no other option. Danielle Smith, the leader of the Wildrose party, crossed the floor to join the Tories not even six months ago. The idea of a party leader jumping ship was basically unthinkable. Such is the anger with the Tories that this didn't hurt Wildrose enough to prevent them from sweeping the rural areas. It might have even helped, by fuelling the sense that Alberta is a closed oligarchy.

This election is the outlier, not the pattern. It is difficult to emphasize just how much Alberta was a de facto one party state for my entire lifetime and beyond. And before the Tories, it was the even more Bible-thumping Social Credit for 36 years. As my dad always said, Alberta elects dynasties, not governments. Fat tailed election results, I suppose.

I don't know as much about Texas as I do about Alberta, but it seems like inter-party competition is much stronger, even if the political spectrum is very far right. (See: Richards, Ann)

The Democratic Party in Texas has essentially collapsed at the state level. That's the main reason why Julian Castro was tapped for the cabinet: he's a very promising politician with a national future but no obvious electoral path to get there from here.

The collapse happened in the 1990s, so Texas hasn't been one-party quite as long as Alberta.

I am curious as to whether you have any thoughts about the recent British election, which bears some resemblance to Alberta's ... and Scotland seems to be entering a period of massive one=party dominance. There's a long discussion at the Duverger's law post.

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