Redrawing Alberta: Colouring in the lines

Looking at the popular vote and seat changes from the 2008 election

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Seventy-two to nine to two-the final score line after the dust settled on the 2008 provincial election. After a month of campaigning, only 41 per cent of registered voters turned out and elected a government that looks markedly similar to the one Alberta had after the 2001 election, which saw the Progressive Conservative party take 74 seats instead of 72, the Alberta Liberal Party taking seven seats instead of nine and the NDP taking two in both elections.

Prior to the Mon., Mar. 3 election, the PCs had 60 seats, the Liberals 16, the NDP four and the Wildrose Alliance one. A major shift in Edmonton resulted in the large seat swing towards the Tories. In 2004, the PC party won 46.8 per cent of the popular vote province wide, nearly 17 per cent more than the Liberals, and lost the popular vote to the Liberals in Edmonton with 34.4 per cent to the Liberals 39.7 per cent. In this election, the PCs increased their popular vote province-wide to 53.3 per cent and the Liberals dropped three percent to 26.7 per cent. In Edmonton, the Liberals picked up only 32.7 per cent of the popular vote, handily losing to the PCs 47.1 per cent. The popular vote swing translated into a 11-seat pick-up for the PCs in the provincial capital, seven coming from incumbent Liberal candidates, two from incumbent NDPs, one from an ex-Liberal incumbent independent and one from a formerly Liberal riding with a non-incumbent candidate.

Calgary remained largely unchanged. In 2004, the PCs won 50.5 per cent of the popular vote and the Liberals 32.1 per cent. The PCs dropped to 46.9 per cent of the popular vote this election and the Liberals increased their share slightly to 34.6 per cent, but this resulted only in a one-seat swing. The Liberals lost one seat, Calgary-Elbow, which Craig Cheffins had won in a byelection, but picked up two new ones, one from an incumbent PC candidate and one from a newcomer PC candidate running in a PC riding.

Rural Alberta, as expected, went blue across the board. Only one seat outside of the Calgary and Edmonton didn't elect a PC candidate: Lethbridge-East, which has been a Liberal riding since 1993. The only non-PC rural riding from 2004, Cardston-Taber-Warner, pending a recount in favour of the Wildrose Alliance, went back to the PC party. Outside of Calgary/Edmonton, the PCs won 62.3 per cent of the popular vote, a nine-percentage-point increase from 2004, when they captured 53.6 per cent.

In 2001, when the PCs won

74 seats, the popular vote shares across the province were quite different. Province-wide, they captured 61.9 per cent of the popular vote, in Calgary they took 69.5 per cent, in Edmonton they took 47.5 per cent and outside of Edmonton and Calgary, they took 66.6 per cent of the popular vote. In the last two elections, Calgary's PC enthusiasm has tapered considerably, down to the current 46.9 per cent of the popular vote they captured on Monday and Edmonton's PC support dipped in 2004 only to come back to the level it was at in 2001 in this election, 47.1 per cent.

Though the results of 2008's election are quite similar to 2001's, there is an eight-percentage-point difference between the PC's 2001 popular vote and 2008 but only a two-seat difference. Proportional representation, pointed to as a potential solution for the rural-urban divide problems in the 2003 electoral boundary commission's final report, may need to be looked at as a general fix for Alberta's electoral system. Distributing the seats using the province-wide popular vote in the 2001 election would have seen

51 PC seats, 23 Liberal, seven NDP and two seats being distributed to the smaller parties that ran in the 2001 election. Applying the same formula to 2008's results gives 44 PC seats, 22 Liberal, seven NDP, six Alberta Alliance and four Green. The current Alberta system is not representative of the voters' views. An eight-percentage-point drop in the popular vote resulted in a two-percentage-point drop in the share of seats for the PCs from 2001 to 2008.

The disparity of popular vote to seats doesn't just apply to the PCs. Comparing 2001's results to 2008's, the Liberals picked up 27.3 per cent of the popular vote province-wide and seven seats in 2001, but dropped to 26.7 per cent of the popular vote and rose to nine seats in 2008.

In two years time, the Alberta legislature must select a commission to redraw Alberta's electoral boundaries. Strikingly, the new commission will be formed under the same conditions as the last one: an overwhelming PC majority. With a new government in place, it's an event far on the horizon. But the political implications of favouritism and fairly representing rural and urban interests must stay in the forefront of the minds of politicians from both parties.