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Mike McDonald: Five quick takeaways from the Alberta election

It was a two-party finish, leaving minor parties even more minor
NEWS-Danielle Smith BWC 2561 web
Premier Danielle Smith of Alberta is one of only three premiers whose party won a majority of votes.

Five takes on the Alberta election:

  1. It was an historically polarizing election

The UCP and NDP combined for close to 97% of the popular vote and all of the seats.  This is an historic level of polarization with minor parties left in the locker room while the two major parties faced off on the electoral playing field.

The NDP’s win in 2015 was at the lowest point of polarization in the 30-year period between 1993 and 2023. In other words, the NDP won when the conservative vote was split.

BC had consecutive elections of two-party polarization in 1979 and 1983 at 94% and 95% combined, respectively, but were not quite as high as the Alberta 2023 result.

  1. The UCP province-wide share of the popular vote largely held

The UCP popular vote was almost 53% and was only 2% below that of Jason Kenney’s win in 2019.  While it was less efficient, regionally, it was resilient. Its vote was weaker in Calgary and Edmonton, when combined with NDP strength, cost them seats. 

The combined vote of the PCs and WildRose parties in 2015 (52% combined from 28% PC; 24% WR) was about the same as the UCP in 2023.

  1. Danielle Smith is one of only three premiers who can claim a majority of votes

Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe (60%) and PEI’s Dennis King (56%) are the only other premiers to win a majority of the popular vote.  Due to presence of third parties in other legislatures, achieving a majority mandate is very difficult.  BC Premier David Eby and Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson are yet to gain their own mandate, having attained office mid-term.

       4. The NDP ran the table on the centre-left

The NDP won 30% more votes in 2023, over 775,000, than during its election win in 2015 when it won just over 600,000.  650,000 more Albertans voted NDP in 2023 than the previous decade.

There were very few electoral table scraps left for the NDP to devour on election night.  The Alberta Party collapsed, and the Alberta Liberals continued their descent to the bottom.

The Alberta Party dropped from 172,000 votes in 2019 to below 13,000 in 2023. 

The demise of the Alberta Liberals has been taking place since 1993 when they contended for power. During this 30-year period, they have plummeted from almost 40% of the popular vote to 0.2%. 

Next time, can the NDP count on third-parties to clear the way as they did in 2023?  The NDP pathway will have to be direct next time – take away UCP votes in the battleground. Consolidation can only get them so far.

  1. Alberta has elected the most women premiers in general elections

Alberta leads all provinces and territories when it comes to electing women premiers.  Three different Alberta premiers – Alison Redford, Rachel Notley, and Danielle Smith – have accomplished the feat and all in the past 11 years. Christy Clark is the only premier in Canada to win twice (in 2017, she was given the opportunity to swear in a cabinet and face a confidence vote). 

Mike McDonald is a political strategist who served under B.C. premiers Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark. He is the partner and chief strategy officer at Kirk & Co.