EDMONTON — With just three days until Monday's vote, many Edmontonians may be caught in a dilemma — do they vote Progressive Conservative for the first time to stave off a Wildrose victory, or do they vote for the opposition party they have traditionally supported?
The strategic voting factor is looming so large in so many minds it seems to have spooked opposition leaders, who have much to lose if their voters abandon them for the Conservatives.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, NDP Leader Brian Mason and Alberta Party Leader Glenn Taylor all started warning Albertans this week not to vote negatively but rather positively — for the candidate who best represents their values. That's code for: "Stick with us."
Mason put it bluntly at the CBC leaders' forum in Edmonton Thursday: "Voting for one right-wing party to keep the other out is foolish."
Sherman's party, meanwhile, created a website this week — toryorwildrose.ca — to highlight the similarities between the two right-of-centre parties.
But those appeals may be falling on deaf ears.
"I'm hearing a lot of Liberals and New Democrats talking about maybe biting the bullet and voting PC to stop the Wildrose," says Dave Cournoyer, a left-of-centre blogger and creator of the popular website Daveberta.ca.
"I'm hearing a lot of people talking about how they don't see any difference between the PCs and the Wildrose, so they're going to vote strategically for the progressive candidate who can win the riding.
"Or they're going to vote their conscience and vote for the party that they actually want to vote for and throw the strategic voting thing out the window."
The Liberal base, about 25 per cent of the 2008 popular vote, is vote-rich territory for the Tories looking for a bulwark against the Wildrose. There are signs that base, in Edmonton, is slipping: In the capital, the Liberals were down to 13 per cent in a recent Edmonton Journal-Calgary Herald poll, while the New Democrats polled at 17 per cent of decided voters. The Wildrose and Tories were polling at 33 and 35 per cent in Edmonton, respectively.
While the Wildrose campaign team is downplaying strategic voting as "Tory spin," leader Danielle Smith urged voters Thursday to vote with their hearts.
"It's very clear that the PCs are hopeful that the Liberal and ND support will migrate over to their party (but) I think people should vote on what they truly believe," Smith said, suggesting Alison Redford won the Progressive Conservative leadership last fall because she drew support from the more left-wing parties. "I think because it worked for her in the PC leadership, she's hoping it will work for her in the general election."
Earlier this week, a group of social activists and actors in their 20s created an online video called "I never thought I'd vote PC," featuring a handful of young people prepared, with regret, to vote for the Conservatives. "I would rather have my face eaten off by rodents" than vote for the Tories, quips one young man, before urging voters to choose anyone but the Wildrose.
In Edmonton, an advocacy group called ChangeAlberta.ca is trying to convince progressive voters in 42 key ridings to rally around a single opposition candidate rather than split votes among the Liberals, NDP, Alberta Party and EverGreens.
But even their efforts are being side-swiped by strategic voting aimed at staving off the Wildrose, organizer Alvin Finkel said. Combined support for the traditional left-of-centre parties appears to be shrinking in the polls compared to ballots cast in 2008.
That's surely a sign of Liberals deciding to vote Conservative, Finkel said, a trend that undercuts his group's efforts to elect progressive candidates.
Edmonton-Glenora may be one of the tightest races in the city. But with five high-profile candidates, making a "strategic" vote is near-impossible. Current cabinet minister Heather Klimchuk is running for the Progressive Conservatives, former MLA Bruce Miller for the Liberals, former school board trustee Sue Huff for the Alberta Party, political stalwart Ray Martin for the NDP, and former mayoral candidate Don Koziak for the Wildrose.
"I think people are really, really torn," Huff said. "It seems like the closer we get to the election, the more undecided people are. ... People are very, very afraid that, it's like, 'Well, I may just have to hold my nose and vote for someone I don't want because I really, really, really don't want the Wildrose in.' "
The Conservative candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford, Fred Horne, could potentially benefit from strategic voting in his tight race. But the current cabinet minister said no one is raising the issue on the doorsteps.
"I always ascribed to the notion people want to vote affirmatively, they want to vote for something," Horne said. "In the end, it's everybody's individual choice."
Liberal Arif Khan is trying to hold onto the Edmonton-Riverview seat won by former Liberal leader Kevin Taft against strong Tory candidate and police officer Steve Young. Worried that he could lose voters to the Tories, Khan put out a new pamphlet in the last week of the campaign showing that the Liberals have the best chance of beating the Wildrose in the south Edmonton riding based on voter turnout in the last three elections.
The NDP in Edmonton-Gold Bar are also taking a strategic approach in an effort to elect Marlin Schmidt in the riding formerly held by longtime Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald.
"New Democrats are generally not huge supporters of strategic voting," said campaign manager Lou Arab.
Still, he thinks Schmidt is a front-runner, though he has no riding breakdown of recent polls. "We've started putting out some information about where the polls stand in Edmonton, what we think is the shape of the race, which is very much that you can vote for Marlin Schmidt knowing that he has one of the best chances of any of the so-called progressive parties today."
Liberal candidate Josipa Petrunic can make a convincing case herself, however, as the strategic progressive candidate: Edmonton-Gold Bar has been held by the Liberals since 1986.
Cournoyer said people who talk about Alberta politics online — on websites, on social media sites like Twitter or Facebook — are already engaged in politics and have likely decided who they will vote for. Strategic voting may hold less interest for voters with less interest in politics.
"The big question is the people who aren't hooked into social media, and engaged in politics 24-7. How are they going to vote on election day?" Cournoyer said. "Are they actually going to think about strategic voting? Are they actually going to vote for who they want, or are they going to vote to change the government?"
Edmonton Journal, Thurs Apr 19 2012
Byline: Sheila Pratt and Trish Audette