Braid: Wildfires bring pause in partisanship — and, is the NDP really 10 points behind in Calgary?


Sometimes reality intrudes on the windy world of an election campaign.

Alberta wildfire outbreaks are deadly serious, with 78 fires burning, including 19 out of control. Homes are destroyed and people evacuated.

This prompted a sign of collaboration across party lines. Premier Danielle Smith said Friday she is keeping the Opposition NDP “in the loop” about the situation.

The NDP confirms that Smith’s chief of staff, Marshall Smith, is calling with updates on the situation.

During the disastrous Fort McMurray fire of 2016, NDP Leader Rachel Notley, then the premier, communicated regularly with Wildrose Leader Brian Jean.

The city was under evacuation order but Notley agreed that Jean, a Fort Mac resident, would stay in the city to help on the ground and communicate with the government.

Jean, who behaved heroically, was included in government briefings. It was an inspiring example of unity and bravery in a true emergency.

Some crises are just too big for politics. It’s good to know that co-operation hasn’t died at the hands of the current toxic campaign.

The political battle doesn’t stop, though.

Only a day earlier, Jean was blasting Notley for the cost of net-zero electricity by 2035, which he estimated at $87 billion, even though the UCP’s own consultant said the total was far less.

This is a hypothetical debate since nobody really knows the cost. Ottawa hasn’t provided any details of the plan, if it even comes to pass.

UCP leader Danielle Smith appears with Calgary-Glenmore UCP candidate Whitney Issik during a campaign announcement at Braeside Automotive on Thursday.
UCP leader Danielle Smith appears with Calgary-Glenmore UCP candidate Whitney Issik during a campaign announcement at Braeside Automotive on Thursday. Gavin Young/Postmedia

Another question dropped into the campaign this week. Is the NDP suddenly a full 10 points behind the UCP in Calgary?

A Leger Marketing poll, conducted after the $1.22-billion arena project was announced, showed the UCP at 48 per cent in the city and the NDP with only 38 per cent support.

If that’s true and lasts for three more weeks, the election is already over. The NDP couldn’t possibly win the 15 to 20 Calgary seats it needs to defeat the UCP.

But the margin of error in the Leger poll is 5.4 per cent for a sample size of 330 individuals.

That could mean that the parties are actually tied. Or that the UCP is even farther ahead.

UCP strategists said Friday the Leger result proves Calgarians love the arena deal. Other polls, however, suggest the agreement itself has just a thin majority of support in the city.

Before the campaign was called, veteran pollster Janet Brown had the NDP five points ahead of the UCP in Calgary at 47 per cent. Has the electorate really flipped in the past few weeks?

There’s little doubt that the race is tightening in the city. But even if the parties are in a dead heat on election day, the NDP could fall well short of government.

“For the NDP to win the most seats in Calgary they need a seven to 10 per cent lead in the polls,” says Marc Henry of polling firm ThinkHQ.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley arrives at a campaign event in Calgary on May 5.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley arrives at a campaign event in Calgary on May 5. Photo by Jim Wells /Postmedia

He doesn’t doubt that Notley’s party will capture more than its current three ridings. The NDP has strong chances in central and northeast Calgary.

But even a majority of Calgary seats (14 of 26) wouldn’t win government for the NDP, unless they break through in several ridings around Edmonton and in rural Alberta.

That’s one scenario today. Support could still change radically before the May 29 voting day.

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The electorate turned on its head during the 2012 campaign. Wildrose under Danielle Smith led in mid-campaign, but the party hemorrhaged support in the final week and was crushed by Alison Redford’s PCs.

In 2015, the PCs of then-premier Jim Prentice were aware of danger signs as the campaign began, but polling didn’t predict the shattering 13-seat majority for the NDP.

Anything remains possible today.

“There’s still plenty of volatility in the electorate,” Henry says.

“Forty per cent haven’t made their minds up. The leaders’ debate is going to matter — whenever it comes along.”

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

Twitter: @DonBraid


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