It was a good idea at the time.
Alberta’s Election Act set the stage for regular elections, every four years. Under the legislation, Premier Jim Prentice had until next spring to wait and face the electorate. Rules dictated an election had to be called in the fourth calendar year following polling day in the most recent general election. That would have meant Albertans would vote for their next government between March 1 and May 31 of 2016.
Of course, that is not going to happen. An election has been called, and Alberta will head to the polls this May instead. The act also stipulates the Lieutenant Governor’s powers are not impacted, meaning the power to dissolve the Legislature is still in the hands of the Lieutenant Governor. Section 38.1 (1) states that power can be used, in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor see fit.
In reality, it is whenever the premier sees fit, as it is the province’s top politician who makes the request, and in this case, Prentice has decided to strike when the iron is hot, and when his opponents are most vulnerable.
No doubt, the Progressive Conservatives are in the driver’s seat. With 70 seats at dissolution, thanks in part to the defections of 11 Wildrose members who crossed the floor, the stage is set to return Canada’s longest-ruling political dynasty to power once again.
Time will tell whether Albertans, upset the provincial budget levied a host of tax and increases on the general public, and once again avoided touching the sacred cow of corporate taxes and also refused to hike oil and gas royalties, will be enough to derail the PCs.
Opposition parties have been buoyed by recent polls, which suggest gains have been made by the Wildrose and Alberta NDP, and the challenge Prentice faces with a $5-billion deficit are very real.
Over four decades into power, the PCs have yet to develop a plan to wean Alberta off its resource rev- enue, and spending has been a major issue, as the province spends $1,300 more per capital than any other jurisdiction in Canada.
Those realities are staring the premier in the face, and party faithful know full well the dangers of let- ting those issues grow and fester for another year.
A 2016 election, of course, would allow the province’s other political entities time to regroup, with new leaders in tow, develop more complete plat- forms and formulate a plan to take on the PC juggernaut.
That was the intent of the Election Act. It was to level the playing field, give Albertans and its political parties a fixed election period and in general, boost the level of democratic transparency.
Unfortunately, the result has been the exact opposite. A chain reaction set off by Danielle Smith’s floor crossing has created a situation where every opposition party has a new leader.
Smith, one election removed from leading in the polls until very late in the game in the battle agains Alison Redford, is now out of the political game, and her former party must now rely on a new leader and a new slate of candidates in many ridings.
Fixed election dates would have prevented the manipulation of the system for the benefit of the party in power. Instead, we are left with a business-as- usual approach.
Time will tell if the calculated gamble by Prentice and company will pay off.