We get what we vote for

Red Deer North Progressive Conservative MLA Mary Anne Jablonski compared the difficulty of this election campaign to her first race, a byelection, in 2000. With respect, that’s being generous to 2000.

Red Deer North Progressive Conservative MLA Mary Anne Jablonski compared the difficulty of this election campaign to her first race, a byelection, in 2000. With respect, that’s being generous to 2000.

Within their ridings, all candidates should run scared, even the inheritors of a dynasty. But this time, the whole government ran scared — and to a certain extent, so did a lot of voters.

There’s change, and then there’s radical change, and by the time voters had registered their grievances against the long-ruling Tories, many began to realize that punishing them at the polls would usher in a little more change than they’re prepared to handle. So this government’s surprising new mandate contains support of many people who are not traditionally Tory voters.

The urban/rural divide in Alberta politics is now more defined, as is the north/south divide. The strength of the Wildrose Party is held mostly in rural ridings, and in the south.

Red Deer itself can now be coloured as more clearly urban in voting patterns than in the past.

There was always a blending of rural and urban concerns within our city, but this time, urban concerns for the well-being of social services, health and education (and their attendant jobs) matched rural anger over landowner surface rights.

Very few were expecting this result, though — even the people whose highly-paid jobs it was to know and predict it.

The complete failure of near-constant polling was brought to an amusing point in CTV’s coverage of the vote. As the polls closed and the pundits began their discussions, CTV posted a chart based on the probabilities of the numbers of seats various parties might hold. At 8 p.m., based on information gathered during the campaign, the Tories were given something around a 10 per cent chance of winning the 44 seats needed for a majority. Wildrose’s chances were something over 60 per cent.

Within minutes of returns showing up, their fancy chart changed rapidly and after that, it was discarded entirely. Nobody needed a chart to see the expected Wildrose victory just wasn’t going to happen.

So much for algorithms. So much for political polling.

Can you remember another election when you got so many phone calls from polling firms, all eager to know your political leanings? Even unlisted landlines and cellphones were not safe from the pollsters and robo-callers.

Can you remember an election when this much advance data ultimately held so little resemblance to reality?

In the election’s immediate aftermath, it would be interesting to hear the debriefing at the Wildrose headquarters. Given the polling data the party has that the public doesn’t have, how great an effect did the “bozo eruptions” over race, sexual orientation and climate change have to stop the party’s obvious momentum in the final days?

The veteran Jablonski had the humility to say she “learned a lot of lessons” in this campaign. We’ll hope that includes lessons regarding the value that people put in their public services (and the value that people put in keeping their jobs providing those services).

But a lesson for the Wildrose is that a political party is not a closed congregation. We are not all the same flavour in Alberta. Like all Canadians, we value our differences and recognize the equality of our citizenship.

At the outset of this campaign I wrote about “shopping our vote.” That “shop” never really made a sale. All the parties had something worth supporting in their platforms. In particular, I regret that Wildrose cannot mandate savings of energy royalties into the Heritage Fund, since it appears the Tories won’t do it.

But I also wrote that a chastened government is better than an arrogant one. We got that.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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