Provincial Election Analysis from Global Public Affairs

Beyond the Ballot:
Alberta 2023 Election Update May 23, 2023
We have arrived at the final full week of the election campaign. Between now and election day, parties will be focused on getting their supporters to the ballot box for advanced polling. Here are insights into the politics and policy in this instalment of the Global Public Affairs Team’s Beyond the Ballot Alberta election coverage.

Election campaigns evolve over the span of four weeks. Early stages of the campaign focus on pushing party policy and messages while identifying supporters in ridings across the province. Later stages of the campaign focus on ensuring that supporters cast their ballots and the party vote total is maximized. With advanced polling starting this week, parties will begin to shift their tactics to ensure their voters get to the polls.

Advanced voting is significantly expanded in this election. Polls will be open from 9 am to 8 pm from Tuesday May 23rd, until Saturday, May 27th. Every riding will have at least one location open for the full advanced voting period. Voters can choose to cast a vote at any advanced voting location. Special ballot voting for those who may not be able to cast their votes on election day or in the advanced polls will remain open as long as mailed in ballots arrive by election day.

Campaign teams will be cognisant of the fact that every day that passes will shrink the total votes still available. We should expect that any final major policy announcements yet to be made by parties will be pushed out the door earlier in the week. The cadence of the final week of the campaign will focus on funneling volunteers and messaging into some of the most competitive ridings and ensuring that every identified supporter has their ballot counted by election day. Elections Alberta will likely release updates on how many Albertans have cast a ballot in the advance voting period. Expect both campaigns to try and leverage these numbers to motivate their own supporters and make assumptions on what higher or lower voter turnout could mean. “Get out the vote” performance during the advanced vote will have a significant impact on the approach on election day.

Polling numbers will likely also begin to solidify in the week ahead. Many pollsters will have been out in market immediately following the leaders’ debate. That key milestone and Albertans reactions may start to give us a sense of what election day could look like. That being said, the ability for a campaign to get their vote out can still be a key deciding factor that does not always get picked up by polling.
Despite minimal announcements specific to the municipal sector, municipal governments feel the impacts of broader policy promises made during an election campaign. Provincial policies and funding decisions can significantly affect local governments’ ability to deliver services and implement local initiatives. The importance of municipal government in a provincial election depends on various factors, including the specific dynamics of the election. In this particular race, Calgary is the battleground hence why parties have made a number of commitments that will specifically impact those residing in these key areas. Other key urban centres like Lethbridge, Canmore, Red Deer, and municipalities in the Capital Region are seen as competitive and therefore local issues are garnering more attention.

Issues like public safety and policing are agnostic to any specific municipality. The idea of replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force has been discussed for several years. UCP leader Danielle Smith remained supportive of the idea despite significant pushback from municipal leaders across the province. The concept continues to evolve with new funding in Budget 2023 for municipalities that want to explore a new policing model. But in terms of a full conversion to a provincial police force, Smith has made it clear that this will not be a policy proposal included in the UCP platform. NDP leader Rachel Notley has been clear that her party would immediately abandon any plans to create a provincial police force should they be elected. With the UCP backing away from the idea, the NDP have had little more to say about the topic, choosing instead to focus on other issues.

Social policy spans a variety of issues that impact the social well being and welfare of the population. Within this space both childcare and affordable housing have featured in the political discussion. In both cases, the parties made commitments to increase accessibility to these services but haven’t been explicit about how exactly they would accomplish their goals. On the childcare front, the UCP can rely on their efforts towards the federal-provincial agreement that was negotiated while they were in power. This agreement, while pivotal, could also prove to be the downfall if those in the sector feel little action has been taken since the ink dried. Similarly, the NDP could refer to their efforts towards improving childcare however, given the landscape has shifted significantly, they’ve focused instead on how they would deliver on the agreement and increase accessibility sooner (2024) than the UCP have committed (2026).

On affordable housing, both parties have made commitments to delivering a specific number of units, or housing a specific number of Albertans. Interestingly, both made significant commitments to affordable housing prior to the campaign period. The UCP’s Stronger Foundations, continues to be their road map to affordable housing while the NDP release their Every Alberta Deserves a Home proposal. The proposal made 11 commitments guided by three key principles: accessibility, inclusive consultation, and transparent evaluation and monitoring. However, since the writ drop – the proposal hasn’t been mentioned specifically in the platform commitments. This isn’t to say the policies wouldn’t guide an NDP government, but rather they might not be seen to be the policies that will drive voters to the polls; which at this stage is the campaign is priority one.

New Democratic Party (NDP)The NDP laid out their commitments for Alberta’s municipalities and social policy commitments, which includes:

Homegrown Alberta.
Building off the current Community Facility Enhancement Program, the NDP would increase grant funding available and add a new $100-million annual capital investment funding stream, so communities can build, repair, renovate, upgrade or expand local community facilities, including sports, recreational, religious, cultural and other public-use spaces.

Building a Better Future for Calgary.With $1.2 billion in investments, the Alberta NDP commit to:
Begin work on the North Leg of the Green Line LRT.Begin work on the North Calgary / Airdrie Regional Health Centre.Build 40 schools.Build more affordable housing.Establish the Alberta Cancer Innovation Hub at the Calgary Cancer Centre.Establish a downtown campus as part of the long-term plans for Calgary’s future Innovation District.

Comprehensive Public Safety Plan.
Restore $32 million in municipal police funding that will cover:
-150 officers in Calgary, Edmonton and other centres, including Lethbridge, Red Deer, St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove, Fort McMurray and elsewhere.
-150 social workers, mental health workers, addictions counsellors, Indigenous-led outreach, and community outreach workers as a part of integrated teams.
-Direct resources to enhance teams already established, like 911/211 co-location,Indigenous teams and culturally appropriate and trauma informed outreach. This includes the DOAP team in Calgary and the COTT team in Edmonton.
-Support civilian oversight and community liaisons to ensure good metrics, reporting, and community involvement.
-Support and grow partnerships with ethnic and multicultural communities to prevent crime, as well as social welfare service providers.
-Provide wrap-around supports and support community agencies in areas such as health, mental health, housing, harm reduction, addictions treatment, and access to training and employment to address the roots of crime.
-Keep the RCMP and invest in specialized Rural Crime Reduction Units to target and shutter crime and organized crime in rural communities.
-Hire more probation officers and invest in post-release programs to stop repeat and prolific offenders.
-Establish a long-term agreement with municipalities to support stable and predictable police funding and an increased use of integrated police-community service teams; Indigenous partnerships; and provincial accountability for services such as affordable housing.

United Conservative Party (UCP)
The UCP ‘s platform remains relatively thin with 9 items listed, including the Safe Streets Action Plan.  Beyond that, much of their commitment to municipal and social policy appear to rely on their time in government, often referring to a commitment to build on what they started.

Investing in Tourism.

Exploring an expanded LRT system in Calgary and Edmonton that would link to their respective airports.Funding for attractions like The Calgary Zoo, Telus Spark Science Centre, Glenbow Museum, and Citadel Theatre.Calgary Arena and Entertainment District:

Working with the City of Calgary to build supportive infrastructure for the event centre and entertainment district.

Contributing up to $300 million, mostly over the next three years, for supportive infrastructure like roads, bridges, LRT connections, site utilities and site reclamation.

Working with the City of Calgary to build a new 1,000-seat community arena neighbouring the main arena.

Safe Street Action Plan.
Add 100 police officers to Edmonton and Calgary to address chronic crime issues, particularly in the downtown cores and on transit, and extend the downtown sheriff redeployment pilot program until at least the end of 2023.

Expand the use of Alberta Sheriffs in the 24/7 bail monitoring process.

Use Alberta’s provincial sheriffs in the monitoring of higher-risk offenders released on bail to provide increased protection for Albertans.Ankle bracelet program for violent and/or sexual offenders on bail.

Establish a 24/7 electronic monitoring program to help protect Albertans against possible violent reoffenders who are out on bail. Provides further options for courts to impose electronic monitoring as a condition of bail.

Specialized Sheriff-led anti-fentanyl and illegal gun trafficking teams to target smugglers bringing deadly drugs and illegal weapons into Alberta.

Increased funding for Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) to:
-Target and suppress gang violence.
-Expand provincial Cyber Crime Unit and Provincial DNA lab.
-Increase monitoring of scrap metal dealers and gang connections to reduce catalytic converter theft.
-Inform Albertans that Clare’s Law enables them to learn whether their partner has any history of domestic assault or sex crimes.
-Clare’s Law protocol allows Albertans to submit applications to obtain information regarding an intimate partner’s possible history of domestic and/or sexual violence victimizing partners or children.
-Increase support for the Internet and Child Exploitation (ICE) teams.
-Funding an engagement team that could deliver education, presentations, and in-person door knocks on low-risk files. Additional investments in women’s shelters and sexual assault counselling/centres over the next four years
-$10 million to support women’s shelters.
-$10 million for sexual assault counselling.

Municipal Grant Programs
Early in the UCP mandate, the City Charter agreements with Calgary and Edmonton were torn up by the provincial government. City Charters outlined new capital grant programs to help close infrastructure gaps. With the Municipal Sustainability Initiative winding down, the UCP announced a new program – the Local Government Fiscal Framework. While both parties remain supportive of this grant stream which will come online in 2024-2025, the topic itself has not been featured in the campaign discussions.

Unpaid Property Taxes
Industry players not paying their municipal property taxes has been a growing issue in recent years. The UCP have taken some measures, including instructing the Alberta Energy Regulator to consider tax payment status as a factor for project approvals or license transfers. While this may impact taxation for new sites, it does not address the hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue that municipalities have not been able to secure. Neither party has spoken about this in detail through the campaign.

Government Track Record
In keeping with tradition as the incumbent government, the UCP continue to make reference to “the past four years”. In the case of public safety, which has been a focus of the government for at least the last two years, the UCP have pointed back to their track records which has including introducing Clare’s Law, to enable women to seek out information on their intimate partners that could help protect them, as well as their nine-point plan to combat human trafficking. Continually throughout the campaign, the UCP have also made reference to Budget 2023; in the case of public safety this included allocated money for fugitive apprehension teams, for gang suppression teams, Alberta Sheriff pilot projects and the task forces launched in Edmonton and Calgary to tackle crime.

Unlike campaigns of the political past, the opposition party can also point to it’s track record in government. Though in the case of the NDP, they’re looking back on it as a lesson learned; an opportunity to demonstrate how they will improve their policy through increased stakeholder engagement, particularly as it relates to municipal policy. 
OUR ELECTION COVERAGEStay tuned for more insights!