PHOTOS: Alberta Premier Jim Prentice and NDP Leader Rachel Notley face off during Thursday evening’s televised leader’s debate. (CBC photo) Below: Pollster Lorne Bozinoff.

The principle is well understood that the simplest explanation is usually the right one.

That’s why the reason Premier Jim Prentice focused his attack on NDP Leader Rachel Notley during Thursday night’s televised leaders’ debate was almost certainly because he realized Alberta New Democrats now pose the most serious threat to the survival of his shopworn Progressive Conservative government.

It was the premier’s misfortune that Ms. Notley turned out to be a skilled debater with reasonable, moderate proposals and an engaging manner – something that came as no surprise to those of us who have known her for a while.

Still, Albertans have been so thoroughly indoctrinated in the idea “Alberta is a conservative province” that it was very difficult for most of the province’s pundits to accept the obvious and just comment on what it means.

Instead, several of them came up with the fanciful theory that Mr. Prentice was attacking Ms. Notley because he wanted to avoid giving too much floor time to the opponent on his far right, and Alberta’s, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean.

“Analysts said it’s possible Prentice didn’t want to engage with the tightly scripted Jean – who seldom deviated from his core message that the Wildrose won’t raise taxes – or that the incumbent premier didn’t want to give any unnecessary airtime to his chief rival,” Edmonton Journal Debate Coverage the Edmonton Journal’s political reporter in a version of events that was unconvincingly echoed by several commentators.

This may go to Mr. Jean’s narrative and the horserace the mainstream media would prefer to be covering, but it is not only too complicated for reality, it is positively byzantine. No, Mr. Prentice attacked Ms. Notley as if she were the most serious threat he faces because right now she is the most serious threat he faces.

For the same reasons, we can dismiss Calgary Sun political columnist Rick Bell’s Assessment that it was only because of Ms. Notley’s now unquestioned debating skills that she drew most of the premier’s attention.

No, she would have drawn his attention regardless because Mr. Prentice’s PCs had already realized she was surging in the polls and therefore presented the most serious threat.

Feeling this way, it was almost a relief yesterday morning to learn of the Forum Research Inc. poll that was in the field on Wednesday and Thursday and which shows the NDP pulling away from both Mr. Prentice’s Austerity Party 1 and Mr. Jean’s Austerity Party 2.

According to Forum Research, 38 per cent of the 801 respondents indicated they would vote NDP, 25 per cent they would vote for the Wildrose Party and 20 per cent planned to vote for the Tories. The Liberals and Alberta parties lagged with 7 and 5 per cent respectively.

These results were apparently so shocking to the Edmonton Journal on Forum Poll that its story didn’t provide readers with the actual percentages, or Forum’s analysis of what they might mean in terms of seat numbers!

The Forum poll also suggested that the NDP now dominate in both Edmonton and Calgary – and, as commenters on this blog frequently remind me to restrain my enthusiasm, conventional Alberta wisdom holds that a party must win in two of three of Edmonton, Calgary and the rest of the province to be assured of a majority government.

“If these results are projected up to an 87 seat Legislature, the NDP would take a 2 seat majority of 46, and the Wildrose Party would take 32,” Forum President Lorne Bozinoff stated in his firm’s analysis of its poll. “The PCs would take just 6 seats and the Liberals 3.”

Results like these – which were presumably echoed by the Tories’ own polling – explain the force and focus of the Tory attack on the NDP in the debate far better and more simply than an unlikely conspiracy theory involving an effort to ignore Mr. Jean.

To my mind, this also explains part of Mr. Prentice’s lack of confidence in his attacks on Ms. Notley – he had practiced, I have no doubt, to assail Mr. Jean. The switch in targets must have happened at the last minute because the strong movement toward the NDP was a relatively new phenomenon.

The Tories, and the Wildrose too, will now do everything and anything in their power to change this in their favour in the short time remaining before the May 5 election.

Just the same, Dr. Bozinoff suggests Ms. Notley and her New Democrats may have found “a recipe for government.”

The challenge facing them now will be to keep it at a boil until voting day, no matter what unappetizing claims the two austerity parties throw at them.

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  1. I’ve been to the Legislature several times and I’m not surprise that Rachel can debate as her and Liberal Laurie Blakeman constantly bombard the the Cons who really don’t answer the question if they actually ever answer for anything at all.

  2. The Edmonton Sun (Post Media) and the Calgary Sun (Post Media) and the Devon Dispatch (Post Media) have all blocked comments that are contrary to the WRP or for the NDP. The Devon Dispatch while blocking wrote a litany of lies about the WRP. it isn’t a paper at all!

    The big point is that the executive of the WRP voted unanimously not to change the party platform that means all that was true under Daniel Smith remains True under Jean.
    Brian Jean stuck to his one line answer “Wild Rose Will not raise your Taxes” he wouldn’t respond to Prentice’s question on how he would handle the 1.8 billion deficit (A scare monger question by Prentice) but, Jean could hardly go on national TV saying his plans are totally centered on doing away with the transfer payments. He would also have to tell the world he does not have the 5 provinces on side that would allow him to pull this off.

    The WRP Exec voted unanimously not to change the parties platform. What was true in Danielle’s day is true today.
    The WRP are patterned after the US Republicans. A Conservative MP was a step down for him in his mind.
    His fix for health care? Send the patients out of province. When the bills get high enough and that won’t take long, tell the electorate its time for private insurance. I say this because this is how Conservatives do away with public programs!
    Some hospitals designated public paid for hospitals, that is people have the insurance or they can mortgage their homes to cover their stay. Or as it is in Republican US the Indigenous hospitals that may or may not get their hedges trimmed and a paint job for
    those people who don’t have a home to mortgage. Yup! That’s sure a fix. Hard for him to go on National TV with that too.
    One person who deserves a big Kudos is David Swan. He got his point out and they were good points He was focused but sidelined as was Jean. Unfortunately the Alberta Liberals only have I think 13 members running. they have had a difficult time but that should not detract from David Swan who was very brave in the face of lots of adversity. The Liberal party problems started with Kevin Taft who has to wear the roses for that.
    Rachel Notley was well prepared for the debate and because Prentice was scared to death of her she got the bulk of his questions while he ignored the other two. His questions were made up of half-truths and outright lies in some cases. Notley had to first rephrase his question to something near the truth and in context then answer it which caused her to run over her time a few times. But that is forgiven because of the way the questions came at her from Prentice.
    I can easily visualize Rachel Notley as the head of an NDP Majority Government in this province but it all comes down to who turns out to vote! Supporting a party on the net has nothing to do with the Voter outcome! You have to go there, enter your ballet to make a difference

  3. While the NDP has moved so very far to the right these last 20 to 30 years…it is good news that the electorate has perhaps decided that the others are beyond the pale…and a social conservative party is to their liking…

  4. The Conservative bully tactics are getting stale for a vast number of Albertans who continue to work hard to make a decent living but are continually being suppressed by a dictatorship of oil rich billionaires who despise working people and there families! Shame on the Conservative Government of Alberta for the injustices the have heaped on working families!

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