Beyond the Ballot: The Prairies
This is part of a series of regional updates by our cross-country team, who are in-jurisdiction experts regarding the on-the-ground dynamic of the Federal Election.
By: Jason Ennis, Jordan Pinkster and Lauren Stone
The Prairies remain a stronghold for the Conservatives who are likely to make gains across the region this election, although the Liberals and NDP may be competitive in a handful of urban ridings.
In 2015, the Conservatives won 44 seats in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the Liberals took 11, and the NDP 6. Recent polling indicates that the Liberals could be shut out of Alberta entirely after winning four seats in 2015, and the NDP could struggle to hold onto the seats they secured in the last election.
When considering the 2019 federal election and how it is being contested across the Prairies, it’s important to consider where the Trudeau government first started its relationship with the West, after its surge to majority government from its previously third place standing in the House of Commons in the 2015 election.
As Justin Trudeau was being sworn-in as Prime Minister and putting together his first Cabinet, his party had a mix of new and experienced Prairie MPs to draw on, including a ground-breaking four from Alberta. His government had an inter-provincial alignment and dynamic that previous Liberal prime ministers could only dream of (perhaps most importantly, a new progressive government in Alberta) that would allow him a window of opportunity to pursue important progressive policy objectives in areas such as energy and the environment.
Furthermore, Trudeau had a base of popular support that enabled him to be in Alberta on the last day of the 2015 campaign and proudly state in stops in both Edmonton and Calgary: “Our country needs Alberta to succeed…You deserve a government that doesn’t take your votes for granted, or that assumes it will have your votes because of where you live, and a government that understands that the time to invest in Alberta is now, when people need help.”
Over the course of the next four years, each of those political advantages and messages have quickly eroded to the point where the Liberals in 2019 are fighting to maintain seats across the region. This shift is most evident in the spring 2019 election of Jason Kenney’s UCP government in Alberta which defeated Rachel Notley’s NDP. Should the Liberals win re-election nationally on October 21, the party will face the ideological heart and soul of opposition to its government and its agenda in Alberta, among other Western governments led by conservative premiers.
The reasons for the Liberals’ decline in the region since 2015 are complex and, in some instances, expected, given the government began to accumulate a track record of decisions that were perceived in the West to be contrary to the region’s interests. This region reflects most clearly the governing difficulties all parties will face heading into the next Parliament. The electorate in the West is frustrated and diverges from other parts of the country on a number of important national policy questions, particularly around resource extraction and environmental policy. This creates a difficult path forward for another federal government under Justin Trudeau and the Liberals to build common ground across the country.
With little change in polling over the past several months, the Prairies appear to be going all in on the ability of Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives to form government and answer some of these difficult questions. As it stands, current projects see the Conservatives on track to carry 54 seats out of 62 – or 87% of the total number of seats across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. There are only a few seats – in ridings such as Ralph Goodale’s in Saskatchewan and Jim Carr’s in Manitoba and perhaps one or two ridings in urban Alberta – where the election is proving to be competitive.
For the governing Liberals, success in Election 2019 has more to do with holding on to some good MPs who might be able to sit inside a potential Cabinet as opposed to opening up new seats like they did in 2015. For Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives, it isn’t just about winning, but rather translating their strong lead in the polls into results and regaining seats that went Liberal red in the last election in mostly urban swing ridings in areas such as Edmonton, Calgary, Regina and Winnipeg.
At the moment, there are no big wins to be had for the rest of the electoral field. While the Green Party has assumed its traditional role as a spot to park a protest vote and the People’s Party has not made any significant gains to draw away Conservative votes, the New Democrats are fighting hard to keep their one seat in Alberta and others in the region and maintain the ability to call themselves a national party.
In the days following election day, the West will need to work its way through some difficult policy discussions regardless of which party forms government. How will the West respond if the region finds itself looking in from the sidelines of a government dominated by Liberal MPs from Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal? Will a Liberal minority government scenario exacerbate already complicated and important policy files? Will the next administration feel the need to reconcile the intense frustrations of a pro resource development region that has been an important contributor to the Canadian economy?
Top ridings to watch
|First-time Liberal MP Kent Hehr won this seat by less than 1,000 votes in 2015. Hehr was the first Liberal to win this seat going back to its creation in 1968. Growing discontent with the Liberals could pose a problem for Hehr as he faces a strong Conservative challenger in financial executive Greg McLean|
|NDP MP Linda Duncan has held this inner-city riding since 2008. With Duncan retiring, the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives see this seat as an opportunity. In fact, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau visited Edmonton-Strathcona instead of other Edmonton ridings that the Liberals won in 2015. Prior to Duncan, Edmonton-Strathcona elected Progressive Conservative and Reform MPs; the Liberals have not held this seat since 1972.|
|Edmonton-Mill Woods (AB)
|In one of the closest races of the 2015 election, Liberal Amarjeet Sohi defeated incumbent Conservative MP Tim Uppal by 92 votes. Unseating Sohi would be a big win for the Conservatives who are again putting forward Uppal to challenge the current Cabinet Minister.|
|Liberal MP Ralph Goodale has represented this riding since 1993. Conservative candidate Michael Kram, who lost to Goodale by more than 10,000 votes in 2015, will be looking to knock off Goodale again this time.|
|Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River (SK)
|This northern Saskatchewan riding has rotated between the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the NDP over the last three elections. In 2015, NDP MP Georgina Jolibois won this seat by just over 100 votes. The Liberals challenger is Tammy-Cook Searson who was formerly the Chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and enjoys strong name recognition in the region.|
|This riding could be a case study on the impacts of the NDP dip in the polls leading into the 2019 election. NDP MP Sheri Benson won by 2,500 votes in 2015 but faces a stiff Conservative challenger in Saskatoon businessman Brad Redekopp. The Conservatives are hoping that NDP loss is their gain.|
|This riding has traditionally been a stronghold for the NDP, save for 2011-2015 when it was held by the Conservatives. In 2015, NDP MP Daniel Blaikie beat Conservative incumbent Lawrence Toet by 61 votes. Toet is running again for the Conservatives. Waning support for the NDP could see this seat returned to the Conservatives.|
|The Liberals took this riding from the NDP in 2015. Liberal MP Robert Falcon-Ouellette will look to hang on to his seat which has historically been a stronghold for the NDP both provincially and federally.|
|Kildonan-St. Paul (MB)
|Another seat the Conservatives will be looking to pick up. Liberal MP MaryAnn Mihychuk currently holds this seat which has historically voted Conservative. Mihychuk won narrowly in 2015 and was shuffled out of Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet in 2017.|
Polling for the Prairies
Courtesy of calculatedpolitics.ca
(September 24, 2019)
Note: The graphs below reflect support in Alberta, and Saskatchewan-Manitoba combined and labeled as the “Prairies”.