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Danielle Smith: NDP fiscal update is an attempt to rebrand ahead of next election

The Alberta Legislature.
The Alberta Legislature. Global News

If you didn’t get a chance to watch the full press conference on the 2nd quarter fiscal update with Finance Minister Joe Ceci, you will have missed the launch of the New Democratic Party’s 2019 election campaign. Now, they didn’t really set the date of the election, but it is pretty clear Tuesday’s press conference marks the start of a pretty obvious rebranding campaign.

Every question asked by the press gallery could have been punctuated with an incredulous, “You’ve got to be kidding me?”

Ceci said they are going to reduce the size of the public service through attrition. He said the government is seeking union contract settlements with zero and zero increases for the next two years.

He said his government will balance the budget by 2023.

READ MORE: Alberta government adjusts expectations, spending because of lower revenues in first quarter fiscal update

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Partway through the questioning, one scribe stated it bluntly: “We’ve never heard any of this from you before, so what’s changed?”

Perhaps the latest poll from Insight West is what has changed. The pollster asked Albertans how they felt the government was doing on managing issues and almost across the board approval numbers are up: on the economy and jobs, on crime and public safety, on health, on education. So no major complaints. And yet support for the NDP doesn’t show it.

If an election were held today, Insight West found that 47 per cent of decided voters said they’d vote for the United Conservative Party (UCP), compared to 33 per cent for the NDP, 10 per cent for the Liberals and seven percent for the Alberta Party.

There are a few things that stand out in these results.

First, the united conservatives are not as united as everyone might have hoped they would be.

WATCH BELOW: Alberta still facing $10.3B deficit, but Joe Ceci says the recession is behind us

Alberta still facing $10.3B deficit, but Joe Ceci says the recession is behind us
Alberta still facing $10.3B deficit, but Joe Ceci says the recession is behind us

“One year ago, 61 per cent of decided voters in Alberta said they would vote for either the Wildrose Party or the Progressive Conservatives,” said VP Public Affairs Mario Conseco. “The current level of support for the UCP is 14 points lower and their rivals have improved their standing.”

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It appears UCP leader Jason Kenney has managed to retain 92 per cent of those who voted PC in 2015, but only 79 per cent of Wildrose voters said they would vote for him. That’s a bit of a surprise: we’ll have to keep an eye on where those disenfranchised Wildrose voters end up. However, wherever they go, it is unlikely to be the NDP.

READ MORE: Alberta’s credit rating downgraded by DBRS

That’s the second interesting result of this poll. The NDP coalition of progressive voters appears to be fraying. While the conservatives are now united under a single banner; united enough to win government, in any case, there are now three parties to choose from the progressive side of the spectrum.

While all three of those parties are in sync on all the hot-button social issues, the main thing that distinguishes both the Liberals and the Alberta Party from the NDP is they are far more concerned about the abysmal state of the province’s finances. Now, it seems, Ceci cares deeply about that too.

We’ll find out soon enough if the finance minister and his colleagues are able to walk this new talk. The fear of losing government can be a powerful motivator.