What if they held an election and nobody came? Campaigning in Alberta
One of the discussions I often end up having with my classes is how much local campaigns and candidates matter. There is a school of thought, best represented by the work of political scientists Ken Carty and Munroe Eagles, that argues that local campaigns can be very important and make a difference. Another school of thought suggests that in an age of electronic, media-intensive, leader-focused campaigns, local candidates matter very little. We often joke in class that one great way to settle this debate would be to convince a candidate not to campaign and see what happens. Unfortunately, we conclude, it would be difficult to convince someone to do this.
Well, the funny thing is that some Alberta Conservative candidates are almost providing us with this situation. Almost of all of them are incumbents and many of them are suspiciously AWOL from their districts. Some are campaigning in districts across the Canada; others just seem to have vanished. That's not to say that their local campaign teams aren't working, just that the candidates themselves have been absent. The media is starting to notice, as Don Martin's column in today's Calgary Herald is about this, as is Kevin Libin's blog posting at the National Post website. The CBC Calgary morning show ran a segment called "Where's Rob?" in which they search for MP Rob Anders, who has done this in the past as well. (In fairness, there are reports that Anders is recovering from an injury this time around).
It's a sign of how impregnable Fortress Alberta is for the Conservatives. Albertans have become used to being ignored by party leaders. Stephen Harper will be here on election night, Stephane Dion is devoting his efforts to campaigning in areas where the Liberals have a chance, and Jack Layton is content to fly over Alberta while dissing the oilsands. Elizabeth May might show up, since Alberta is actually the province where the Greens earned the highest share of the vote. But the increasing tendency of incumbent MPs not to campaign here takes this to a whole new level.
Albertans don't like to be taken for granted, as the province's long history of developing "third parties" shows us. However, this is a logical consequence of the electorate's monolithic voting behaviour. If Albertans are going to elect Conservatives no matter what, there's little incentive for anyone to "woo" them. Including, it seems, its Members of Parliament.