As both the United Conservative and New Democrat parties try to win 44 seats in the May 29 provincial election to earn a majority government, several battlegrounds are emerging — and not just in Calgary.
At dissolution, the UCP had 60 seats in the Alberta legislature. The NDP had 23. There were two independents and two vacant seats.
That means, in order to form a majority government, the NDP will have to pick up 21 seats. Most of the Calgary ridings have already been identified as critical, but so are others.
“The ridings around Edmonton and in the bedroom communities surrounding the city are just as important, in some cases, as the ones in Calgary and frankly must-wins for the NDP in the reference to take off some of the pressure from their need to sweep the table in Calgary,” said Michael Solberg, partner at New West Public Affairs.
He pointed to Strathcona-Sherwood Park, Sherwood Park and Morinville-St. Albert.
“They’re just as in play and just as important as the eight or nine seats in Calgary that everybody talks about as ultimately deciding who wins this election.
“I think people need to remember that just outside of Edmonton is just as crucial for the NDP.”
The three ridings he mentioned are held by UCP incumbents.
“So the NDP need to make gains there in order to pull this thing off, but they are showing signs of momentum,” Solberg said. “The question is whether it will be enough to ultimately get the result that they need, which is to win those seats.”
Both parties hosted campaign events in Strathcona County over the weekend.
“Many of these ridings will be decided by 200 votes or less,” Solberg said. “And that could include some in the donut around Edmonton. We’ll have to see.
“This election was always going to be extremely close,” Solberg said. “I’m not surprised these seats are in play.
“The NDP are extraordinarily popular in Edmonton, but they need that support to extend elsewhere across the province.”
He said, by this point, most voters already know who they’re going to vote for.
“At this stage of the campaign, any political operative will tell you that it’s not about courting the hearts and minds of voters anymore, it’s about getting the support you’ve already cultivated out to the polls.”
In the Strathcona-Sherwood Park riding, it’s incumbent Nate Glubish running for the UCP and Bill Tonita for the NDP.
Glubish first took office in 2019. He was part of the UCP cabinet, serving as the minister of technology and innovation before the legislature was dissolved.
The Alberta NDP won the riding in 2015 and Tonita, a former Strathcona County councillor, is the candidate the party is hoping can help it to flip the riding. He has been campaigning for months.
Cathy Olesen, who was a Progressive Conservative MLA as well as the former Strathcona County mayor, announced she will be voting for the NDP.
“I sat across the hall from these two women candidates and I can honestly say that I trust and respect Rachel unequivocally,” Olesen said on Twitter. “Been laying low with public commentary since I’ve been out of politics. The stakes are just too high.”
Olesen joins several other former Progressive Conservative politicians who have endorsed the NDP.
Former PC MLA, minister of education and deputy premier (2012-2013) Thomas Lukaszuk has been vocal in his support of the NDP.
Doug Griffiths was a PC MLA for four terms, representing Wainwright and Battle River-Wainwright, under premiers Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.
He served as minister of municipal affairs and Service Alberta.
“This is one of the most pivotal election in Alberta’s history,” Griffiths said in a video shared May 19 on social media. “We don’t need more radical ideas and anger. We need leadership and people who can represent our communities in the legislature.”
Raj Sherman, a medical doctor, is running under the UCP banner in the Edmonton-Whitemud riding.
Sherman is a former PC MLA. He was elected leader of the Alberta Liberal Party in 2011 after crossing the floor from the then-Progressive Conservative Party. He stepped down in 2015.
Another former Liberal Party leader and MLA David Swann endorsed Notley.
Political analyst Jason Ribeiro doesn’t put too much weight on political endorsements, especially in terms of voter outcomes.
“I don’t think it matters much in the grand scheme of things,” he said on May 11. “I think endorsements from former politicians are likely overstated.
“It would be a little bit different if there was a floor crossing.
“It would be a little bit different if an outgoing premier — if Jason Kenney somehow endorsed Rachel Notley, that would be a little bit more of a seat change in terms of the outcomes — former politicians less so,” Ribeiro said.
“Most public polling has shown the majority of Albertans are moderate. And whether they’re left-leaning or right-leaning, they are moderate. For some reason, Danielle Smith has not ebbed and flowed in a way that most moderate premiers have. Rachel Notley has done a lot of work to try and present herself as someone who is moderate and more in that classic style of premier than the opposition try to paint her to be.”