Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

Trevor Tombe: The race between Danielle Smith and Rachel Notley is razor thin

Commentary

Following several weeks of active (though technically informal) campaigning, Alberta’s 2023 provincial election is now finally underway and voters head to the polls on May 29.

The campaign, and its outcome, will be one for all Canadians to watch.

The province has the third-largest economy in Canada and its population is rapidly growing. It’s the destination for an increasing number of people leaving unaffordable cities elsewhere. Its energy sector is an important contributor to the national economy and federal finances. It is also the regional core of Canada’s federal Conservative Party, so outcomes here may affect that party’s prospects elsewhere.

There may also be national unity implications of the vote. A separate Alberta Pension Plan, for example, which would likely result in higher CPP contribution rates for workers outside Alberta, may hinge on this campaign. And regardless of which party wins, the federal government is picking fights that the next provincial government will have to forcefully respond to.

What makes Alberta’s 2023 election especially interesting, though, is how so much may depend on so few.

Of the roughly two million votes that may be cast, the winner could be decided by a small handful—potentially a few hundred—in just a few critical ridings.

It’s going to be tight. Very tight. 

The latest projection

To understand the election dynamics that will play out in the province over the next month, you must appreciate that Alberta is divided into three regions: Edmonton, Calgary, and the rest. Winning two of these three broad regions is typically required to form a government. 

Currently, the NDP dominates Edmonton while the UCP dominates rural areas. 

The regions aren’t the same size, however. And by commanding rural areas, the UCP has a clear seat advantage going into this campaign.

Don’t just take my word for it. One source of excellent election insight is P.J. Fournier at 338Canada.com. This projection is regularly updated with the latest available polling and suggests a UCP victory is more likely than not. As of last week, the model implies the UCP may capture 49 of the 87 available seats versus the NDP’s 38. 

While this might look like a comfortable position, the margin of victory is tiny and many seats could easily flip the other way. 

It’s all about Calgary

Based on this 338Canada projection, there are roughly 27 relatively safe NDP seats—where the projected margin of victory is at least ten points—compared to 40 for the UCP. 

It’ll all come down to those 20 remaining seats, 15 of which have projected margins between the parties of no more than three points. And almost all of those are in the northern half of Calgary.

In short, Alberta’s election is all about Calgary.

It’s little wonder why the province put forward hundreds of millions toward a new arena for the Calgary Flames. A commitment that was, interestingly, tied explicitly by the premier to a UCP victory. It is also a more business-oriented electorate than other regions—it is home to more corporate headquarters than any city outside Toronto—so tax policy and government finances may loom large. Both parties have committed to not raising taxes, for example, and the UCP has gone even further: they’ll require a referendum to change future income tax rates, like what’s already on the books for a sales tax.

With a race this close, nearly every issue that arises—and every vote in key battleground ridings—will potentially decide the winner.

Alberta’s election pyramid

To better appreciate just how tight things are, consider each riding as one layer of a pyramid that each party stacks up to reach the required 44-seat majority.This is inspired by a New York Times visualization from the 2000 presidential campaign. 

Stack the likeliest victories at the bottom and continue through to the tightest toss-ups at the top. This reveals nearly all the seats that put the UCP over the top have razor-thin margins that a handful of voters could shift. The same for the NDP.

Small swings in the vote share can therefore translate into large seat swings. A uniform two-point swing towards the UCP, for example, results in potentially 54 seats going UCP compared to 32 for the NDP. That’s a comfortable majority. 

In contrast, the same two-point swing in favour of the NDP could result in 44 seats going their way compared to 43 for the UCP. Such an outcome would be wild. The Speaker normally comes from the governing party ranks, after all, so 44/43 would create an effective tie between the parties in the legislature, grinding any meaningful business to a halt. 

Of course, all of these projections are based on polls and a model of electoral outcomes. The campaign will no doubt matter. Potentially a lot. A shift of just a few voters could make all the difference. The half-dozen seats that put the UCP over the top, as we can see in the graphic, could flip the other way with less than a few hundred voters in each riding changing their minds. 

Which party forms the government could very well come down to less than 0.05 percent of voters.

Whichever way it goes, this all makes Alberta’s provincial election a fascinating and important campaign for all Canadians to watch.

Patrick Luciani: Does the road to peace in Ukraine run through Beijing?

Commentary

The atrocities by the Russians against Ukraine have shocked the world. Putin has directed his country’s massive “military-industrial complex” to either win the war or inflict maximum damage on Ukraine. Despite the bravery of Ukraine’s fighters, a long battle will be more damaging for Ukraine than for Russia. And as long as the battle isn’t fought in Russia, Putin can continue the war indefinitely while their war factories remain unmolested. So how will the fighting end? According to historian and international affairs expert Stephen Kotkin,On April 13, Professor Kotkin gave his thoughts on the war at the Salon Speakers Series at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. For those unfamiliar with Professor Kotkin, he’s best known for his three-volume biography of Joseph Stalin, described by the NYT as “monumental.” His work has been studied closely by President Xi Jinping and Communist party elites. Professor Kotkin is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and an advisor to the Biden Administration. the outline of a peace deal may be emerging. 

In his visit to Moscow in March, Xi Jinping proposed a twelve-point peace plan that was quickly rejected by NATO powers, especially Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Nonetheless, the offer was the possible start of a peace plan. Why would China want to end the war when they benefit from cheap Russian oil while the United States depletes its military arsenal, such as its Javelin anti-tank missiles?

China has two motives for pursuing peace; to announce to the world that it is a major diplomatic player and to halt the growing anti-China sentiments worldwide, especially in Europe. China’s prestige on the world stage will only increase if it is seen as stopping the killing. Xi has already gained a diplomatic victory by brokering a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia and now wants to do the same between Israel and the Palestinians.  

Now that China is the senior partner in its relationship with Russia—and Russia’s leading international backer—it is the only country that can guarantee the terms of any armistice or peace agreement. A deal with Putin alone would have no value since he couldn’t be trusted to hold up his end of any contract.

On the other hand, Kotkin argues that Putin would not dare break the terms of a deal with NATO and Ukraine if it is secured and endorsed by Beijing. Xi would be the last person Putin would want to offend now that he has handed his country’s economic salvation to the Chinese. Given the hostile history between the two countries, this is an extraordinary turn of events. 

The Ukrainians could push the Russians from their territory, though highly unlikely. This would be a form of victory but not a lasting peace. The Ukrainians can win the peace by getting the two things they have wanted all along, the freedom to join the West and remove themselves from Russia’s grip with a security guarantee. That’s what the 2004 Orange Revolution was all about. Henry Kissinger now supports the idea that Ukraine has earned the right to become a member of NATO.

Kotkin thinks this is a bad idea. He believes Ukraine won’t have the support of all NATO members, especially Germany. Russia gets to save face by keeping land now occupied by Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the Donbas region and keeping Crimea, which looks like a lost cause for Ukraine. Even Boris Yeltsin demanded the return of Crimea when Ukraine declared independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The best solution is an armistice with a demilitarized zone. This solution has kept the peace for 70 years on the Korean peninsula, turning South Korea into an economic powerhouse. The same could happen to Ukraine.

Kotkin reminds us that things could change before a peace agreement comes entirely into view, such as Putin facing the same fate as Ceausescu in Romania. But that’s a wish, not a plan. The question is, will the United States administration engage with China over a peace deal now that there are deep tensions over trade and Taiwan?

China has strong incentives to bring Putin to the negotiating table. It wants to burnish its tarnished reputation in the West, especially after COVID, and show the world it is a power on par with the U.S. Will the U.S. get on board and convince Zelenskyy to negotiate? The U.S. is also incentivized to deny the Sino-Russian side a propaganda victory. For now, America’s financial and public support for Ukraine is deep, but neither is infinite.