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Saturday, January 30, 2010

dear ontario punditry; re: alberta.

This post is aimed at the largely Ontario-based media and their sudden interest in Alberta politics. Since the selection of Danielle Smith as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, political pundits from all the major Ontario-based television and print outlets appear to have jumped aboard the "pay attention to Alberta politics" train, which has led to a new round of half-informed commentary from the normally centre of the Universe-centric pundit gallery. For our friends in central Canada, who have taken a sudden interest in Alberta politics, and more specifically election results, please be aware that Albertans are not a colony of simpleton farmers and oil industry cowboys who all march in-step and mindlessly vote for the Government Party every four years.

Alberta is the most urbanized province in Canada (81% of the population living in urban areas) and the Edmonton-Calgary corridor is one of the most urbanized regions in Canada. We are the third most diverse province in terms of visible minorities. Calgary is the third most diverse Canadian city in terms of visible minorities (after Toronto and British Columbia's lower mainland) and Edmonton is more diverse than the small cities known as Montreal and Ottawa in the same category. We are people of many faiths and we are also the province with the second highest percentage of self-identified non-religious people. Calgary was the birthplace of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the precursor of the NDP. Alberta is the first jurisdiction in the British Commonwealth to have elected a female legislator and a female Alderman. Alberta is the home of ColdFX and Bioware. We face some of the same challenges as other provinces and we face some unique of our own.

Our politicians may leave a lot to be desired, but so do yours. Alberta's political culture is a lot more diverse than the common mythology will tell you. So, before you join your fellow Upper Canada College alumni for high tea at the Canadian Club to tell stories of how the western simpletons have made the intellectual leap and discovered democratic choice, please take a glance at the charts below. The next time you hear someone pose the question "who do Albertans turn to when they are not happy with their government?," ask yourself if that that question would sound just as ridiculous if you were talking about Ontarians.

Total Vote: PC versus Combined Opposition (Alberta 1971-2008)


Total Vote: Party Breakdown (Alberta 1971-2008)


Total Elected MLAs: PC versus Combined Opposition (Alberta 1971-2008)


Total Elected MLAs: Party Breakdown (Alberta 1971-2008)


Voter Turnout versus Eligible Voters (Alberta 1975-2008)

27 comments:

JimBobby said...

I reckon Albertans might be just as misinformed about Ontarians as Ontarians are about Albertans. I chalk a lot of that up to our electoral system. First past the post (FPTP) paints a very skewed picture. Because Ontarians tend to elect a lot of Liberals, we lose sight of the fact that there are significant numbers of Conservatives in Ontario. Vice-versa in Alberta, as your charts show.

Casual observers in both the east and the west can be somewhat forgiven for looking at electoral results and making broad assumptions based on disproportionate representation. We should expect pundits to know more than the average person.

Thanks for trying to educate us know-nothing latte liberals, Dave. We never noticed that the Reform Party came out of Alberta, swallowed up the PCs and now runs the entire country based on what's best for big oil.

Oxygen Smith said...

I think that this still begs the question of why the majority of Albertans continue to elect people who are screwing us.

I think that there is a "ferment" of some kind, but where Simpson goes wrong is that it's not conservative. It's based on the fact that oil politics trump democratic politics by rendering them redundant for a lot of people. The state, the oil industry and the people (or a large chunk of them) are related not only economically but culturally. It's not true for everyone, but when economics and culture are on the same page for most people, you've got hegemony. People now reject the opposition not for policy reasons but for their cultural reasons— the opposition's imaginary association with the mythical NEP, fear of "easterners," socialists, what have you.

I think that the problem with all reporting like Simpson's, whether it's talking about Alberta or Ontario or where-ever, is that it never takes into account that voting is democracy's bluntest instrument. People are upset for all kinds of individual reasons, but in the genre of writing about these horse races, you have to locate (in this fog) some kind of singular cohesive reason why voters reject or accept somebody. So, out goes discussion about the opposition, along with a hundred other nuances.

Jae/Jennie said...

I think that this still begs the question of why the majority of Albertans continue to elect people who are screwing us.

I think this comment begs the question of why you can't read charts. (Or else don't know what the word 'majority' means--I suppose it could be either one.)

Daniel Kaszor said...

This post is great commentary. One thing though: If you call someone from Ontario "from the East" they will give you a perplexed look then say something like "I'm not from Nova Scotia."

Jarrett said...

Really good post dave. Keep up the good work. I think your blog has improved tremendously over the years. Less opinion and more fact than before and certainly more research (with links) than the vast majority of blogs I read. I don't always agree with what you blog but I certainly respect it.

Atypical Albertan said...

Thanks for this incredible post Dave. These are such troubling numbers and trends.

Here are my observations:

- We are in desperate need for propotional representation. Clearly the Oppostion is not being fairly represented in the legislature.

- We need to engage new Albertans in the democratic process. I was shocked to see that the total number of voters has stayed constant since basically 1993.

- You have confirmed my suspicion that Liberal and NDP votes have generally stalled since the fallout of the 1993 election, even as our population skyrockets.

-(Actually, it looks like Liberal vote pattern is following an exponential decay)

Conclusion, Now more than ever, we need to Reboot Alberta politics.

Laura said...

Oh thank goodness! From the Twitter post I thought you were going to go on one of those redneck-ish rants. Au contraire. Interesting stats! Thanks!

Alvin said...

Dave's charts show that the small-l liberal vote in Alberta is quite respectable. It simply doesn't translate into much of anything in a FPTP system where the small-c conservative vote can generally trump even a coalition of the centre-left forces. That's made worse,particularly in the 2008 election, by the division among the centre-left forces.

Of course, as several people suggest, proportional voting would show a very different Alberta, just as it would show a very different Ontario or Quebec. But what are the chances of getting PR from the Tories or from Wild Rose? Zero. They both are unalterably opposed to it.

The only way to get PR or much else is for the progressive forces to work together in the next election, the first election in decades in which the right-wing forces are divided into two powerful groups. Do I think they will? No, because the people who run these parties are more concerned about building fortresses around their institution than they are about social justice and environmental improvements, even though their policies focus generally on these good things. Well, that's not true about David Swann. But it does not seem that he actually runs his party in any meaningful sense.

So, how should people in Ontario and elsewhere view Albertans and their governments, and the possibility that things in Alberta will change? In my view, they should stick to their current views and ignore what Dave is saying. It's interesting as a guide to the social fabric of Alberta but irrelevant to our political future, which almost everyone has agreed to abandon to the far right.

Our governments act as if they have a mandate from the whole population to run the province exclusively in the interests of Big Oil, and if FPTP continues, they'll continue to act that way. All majority FPTP-elected governments, whether they are elected by majorities or minorities of voters, behave as if they have a mandate. So why would anyone expect the Big Oil governments of Alberta to behave differently? As for those of us who oppose the tenor of Alberta politics and want to see big changes, our views are fairly shallow. We'd rather stick to our party, knowing that on its own it is irrelevant outside of a few seats, than try to unite the forces for social and political change. Or we look to create some new small party with our friends as the Renewers seem to be trying to do, so that there are even more ways of splitting the same vote. Our disunity is more a part of Alberta culture than our pretend desire to remove Big Oil from power.

Alvin Finkel,
Democratic Renewal Project
(drp.ca)

Anonymous said...

Get off your high horse Alivin, Alberta had a form of PR and it still produced Social Credit majorities. Lets not forget voters in Ontario kicked PR to the curb.

Fact: If voters in Alberta wanted an Alberta Liberal government we would have one.

Fact: At the height of the Liberals popularity they're a lot of otherwise Conservative voters who went with the only other option available.

Fact: After Decore the parade of Liberal leaders has well, been a Parade.. but not one Ralph would want to get in front of.

Fact: Alberta has the most stable governments, stable governments produce stable economy's.

Fact: Most Albertan's benefit in someway from the oil and gas industry, insult the engine of this province and you won't make many friends.

Thank you.

Edmonton Jim said...

When I moved to Alberta in 1995, I thought everyone would be driving a truck and wearing cowboy hats and boots. I was wrong, and the myth was destroyed. What I have noticed in Alberta is a DEEP resentment for how they have been treated in the confederation. The wounds of the NEP run deep. But I also remember the singing of "Oh Canada" during the Stanley Cup finals in Edmonton in 2006. This is a province of contradictions.

David J. Climenhaga said...

Dave: It's long been obvious that support for an alternative political worldview in Alberta is wider and deeper than the results produced by the Single Member Plurality system tend to indicate. Your interesting charts confirm this reality. Attacks on SMP like Dr. Finkel's also make sense, although as other readers point out, the chances of changing the system are insignificant. The real problem, in my view, has been the consistent inability of the opposition parties to produce a leader who can capture the imagination of Albertans. Parade of Liberals though there has been, there is really not much choice for that party but to try again. The NDP, by contrast, has a boutique mandate. The Conservatives have a huge advantage in that the leadership class of Alberta long ago concluded there is only one vehicle for its ambitions. Wildrose fever notwithstanding, I doubt this has changed much. To suggest, as you do, that the Ontario media is derelict misstates the problem. Your critique applies to ALL media in Canada. How is the coverage of this story different or better here in Alberta? You are describing a problem endemic to the media that has nothing to do with the street address of its business premises.

NLAR said...

Dave, perhaps Ontario-based media is paying attention to Alberta, because like everyone else we all get our news from the Rick Mercer Report, just like the Americians get their news from Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. You should have brought up in your blog the misadventure that Rich Vivone had trying to get his latest book published by Ontario based publishers....

alexabboud said...

Good post. A couple of comments:

- I think the broader point is that we Canadians tend not to have a good understanding of the other provinces/regions outside of the ones we've lived in. When talking about misconceptions people from other parts of the country have about Alberta, the converse is probably also true.

- I find that Albertans are often as guilty as anyone of promoting the generalizations/misconceptions about our province.

jerrymacgp said...

What seems to be unique about the political culture here is that everywhere else in the country, when the voters are unhappy with the Government of the day, they vote to throw the bums out; here, they just stay home, in droves. And don't let the slightly left-of-centre tilt of Edmonton fool you… Calgary is much less Lib-NDP friendly, and in the rest of the province (i.e. the smaller cities and rural areas), Liberal is a 4-letter word, and NDP is tantamount to 50's-era "commie".

Party of One said...

Anon 1007

"Fact: Alberta has the most stable governments, stable governments produce stable economy's."

I think you're playing a little fast and loose with what is "fact" and what is "opinion", but nevermind...

The particular "fact" above is almost exactly backwards, unless you really want to make the case for government intervention in the economy...not usual from a conservative.

In "fact", stable economies produce stable governments; if people are generally content, they won't vote for change, EVEN if it can be demonstrated that holding governments more accountable leads to BETTER government.

The mantra of "change is bad, change is scary" resonates very well with those whose vision of Alberta's potential is limited to economic goals. The "We're only here for the money" crowd.

Just another point, which I've made before elsewhere: Central Canada does NOT "hate" or "despeise" Alberta or the West. They ignore them, because in a system where population determines political strenth, we DON'T have the population base to force central Canadians to seriously consider our concerns! There's NO maliscious intent, there's just political reality.

And having lots of money...so what? Are people seriously suggesting that the franchise be extended further to those with money than those without?

Ralph Klein's cast-iron liver said...

Things I learned from this thread:

Daveberta reads the Globe and Mail too much.

Dr. Alvin Finkel can't tie his shoes without writing a ponderous 1,000-word essay about it.

That's about it.

Danielle Smith's Mangled Sound Bite said...

What a bunch of high minded crap from Alvin Finkel.

But I do find this line interesting: "But it does not seem that [David Swann] actually runs his party in any meaningful sense."

What makes you think that? Who does then?

I find that detail very interesting, and am curious what all other readers think. Who's running the Alberta Liberals?

Duh. said...

The Alberta Liberals are being run by the same people who faked the moon landing.

Actually, the whole question presupposes that somebody is behind the wheel.

A said...

Is it weird to anyone else that declining voter turnout (when expressed as a percentage) actually means that roughly the same number of people have been voting this whole time?

R. G. Harvie said...

when the voters are unhappy with the Government of the day, they vote to throw the bums out; here, they just stay home, in droves

Egocentric much?

Isn't it at least as likely that "when voters are content with the Government of the day, they don't see much reason to get off their asses to go to the polling station.. in droves.

And we wonder why the Liberal party in Alberta is completely irrelevant. Because their arrogance ASSUMES others agree with them, so they don't need to listen to those outside of their very small tent.

Jean Chretien's Dismembered Choking Hand said...

"And we wonder why the Liberal party in Alberta is completely irrelevant. Because their arrogance ASSUMES others agree with them, so they don't need to listen to those outside of their very small tent."

Huh? Why do you assume the comment you just bitch-slapped was from a Liberal?

Merlin Durken said...

Hey Dave -- for the life of me I can't make the 81% urbanization of the province into a positive. The land is almost empty, and the cities just suck more and more vitality from what's left of the planet. We watched Born Into Brothels last night. It was interesting to watch trouble fall away as the kids were bussed out of the rotten core of Calcutta to the see the Indian Ocean for the first time.

Seems like all the trouble Mongolia has to offer is centred in Ulabataar and other smaller cities in that country, with the usual stuff in evidence, but once outside the cities that changes drastically for the better as well.

Incidentally Mongolia had an election in 2008, and the winning party, the MPRP who enjoyed a significant majority of the votes asked their largest rival and main opposition the Democratic Party to form a coalition government. Which they did! Seems ultimately civilized, and urbanization is probably the opposite to here for percentages.

Merlin Durken said...

Ok, I just checked and urbanization in Mongolia is 57%. I like that number way better than the one we're currently enjoying...

R. G. Harvie said...

Huh? Why do you assume the comment you just bitch-slapped was from a Liberal?

Fair enough. I don't. Just a guess I suppose.

But, the point remains - making assumptions of why people don't vote is pretty pointless..

Laurence Miall said...

Alberta is not very urban. It is suburban. I lived in Edmonton for 18 years; have now lived in Montreal for almost three. The core of Montreal is very different from Edmonton; once you get out to the periphery, the cities are much more similar. Same goes for Calgary, again, a primarily suburban city.

So I think you should say, Dave, that almost 81% of Albertan live in sparsely populated, low-density suburbs.

kiramatali shah said...

The Center for Media Research has released a study by Vertical Response that shows just where many of these ‘Main Street’ players are going with their online dollars. The big winners: e-mail and social media. With only 3.8% of small business folks NOT planning on using e-mail marketing and with social media carrying the perception of being free (which they so rudely discover it is far from free) this should make some in the banner and search crowd a little wary.

www.onlineuniversalwork.com

kiramatali shah said...

The Center for Media Research has released a study by Vertical Response that shows just where many of these ‘Main Street’ players are going with their online dollars. The big winners: e-mail and social media. With only 3.8% of small business folks NOT planning on using e-mail marketing and with social media carrying the perception of being free (which they so rudely discover it is far from free) this should make some in the banner and search crowd a little wary.

www.onlineuniversalwork.com