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Pinch me! Am I dreaming? Canada’s ‘most conservative’ province elects an NDP majority

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PHOTOS: Rachel Notley, Alberta’s premier-elect, smiles at 1,000 or more of her supporters last night in an Edmonton hotel ballroom. Below: Two more views of Ms. Notley during her victory speech.

Well, how d’ya like them oranges?

Alberta New Democratic Party, 53 seats; Wildrose Party, 20; Progressive Conservative Party, 11; Alberta Liberal Party, 1; Alberta Party, 1! And that Progressive Conservative Premier, Jim Prentice, who was supposed to restore the dynasty? About to resign.

Rachel-LThey were still referring to Alberta as “Canada’s most conservative province” on the CBC just after midnight this morning as I drove home from the NDP’s massive victory celebration in Edmonton’s Westin Hotel. Actually, I think the national broadcaster might want to update that script!

There’s a good case to be made it hasn’t really been true for quite a while, anyway, notwithstanding the nearly 44-year history, 80 years if you count Social Credit, of Albertans electing conservative governments by large majorities.

In many ways, as plenty of public opinion polls have illustrated – and I think public opinion research has just sort of redeemed itself, don’t you? – Albertans’ attitudes in the past couple of decades have paralleled those of Canadians throughout the country.

Sooner or later all those folks moving here from other parts of Canada were bound to change things – and last night’s general election showed just how much things have changed.

Still, it was very hard for Albertans to believe epochal change was about to happen yesterday, even when it was starting to be pretty clear something electrical was in the air. And this included most die-hard New Democrats from these parts, your blogger included. The most common phrase I heard at the party’s celebration last night was, “Pinch me! Am I dreaming?”

There’s a reason for this. If there’s anything at all to the idea that Alberta’s still conservative place, it’s this: After literally generations of conservative governments in power Edmonton, there’s a little tiny Tory in the back of every one of our Albertan heads whispering, “No you can’t!”

Rachel-RYou can’t change anything. You can’t protect the environment and still provide energy to the world. You can’t benefit from the resources you own like the good people of Alaska or Norway do because … well, you just can’t!

For several generations now, our tiny inner Tory has been, as a famous American conservative once put it in a slightly different context, “a nattering nabob of negativism.”

Don’t try to change anything. Our inner Tory says, You can’t do it. Don’t try to build a better Alberta. You can’t do it. Forget about a more diversified economy. You can’t do it. Don’t ask us to pay our share when we tell you to pay yours. You can’t do it.

So Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley’s pitch perfect campaign, which crested at exactly the right moment, achieved the feat of allowing us Albertans to think, “Yes we can!”

Ms. Notley made that happen by telling us – way back on pretty much the first day of her campaign to lead the Alberta NDP – that she was running to be premier of Alberta.

A lot of people, some of them New Democrats – were skeptical of that claim. During the leadership campaign, and even more during the campaign leading up to the election called by Mr. Prentice, some were downright dismissive. Some NDP supporters were afraid it would scare voters away in droves.

But it’s said here it achieved the nearly impossible: it was the key to making Albertans believe the change they craved could happen, if only they were brave enough to make it. Yesterday they were, and it did!

That’s why this election – as miraculous as it seems – was no miracle on the Prairies. Hard work, vision and courage made it come about.

Yes, Mr. Prentice helped, with one of the most spectacularly awful campaigns imaginable – a combination of dumb strategy, bad luck and a tin ear that couldn’t pick up what Albertans were telling him, no matter how loudly they said it. As in, “Don’t call an early election, please!”

But this was a case where the traditional defensive logic of politics – which says governments lose elections, opposition parties don’t win them – rings hollow. No, Ms. Notley won this one, with a hope-mongering campaign that overcame PC negativity and threats, and made believers of huge numbers of voters who a year ago could never have imagined themselves voting anything but Tory.

I doubt this means that Orange is the new Blue – if by Blue you mean another multi-decade, multi-generational dynasty.

No, Ms. Notley’s campaign has made possible an Alberta that is more like the rest of Canada – more humane, more inclusive, more respectful, more democratic, and therefore more prone to healthy changes of government from time to time.

The hard work for the NDP will start today – or, at least, tomorrow, when the hangovers wear off.

Yes, Ms. Notley has an inexperienced caucus, some members of which never imagined they would be MLAs when they agreed to run. But, seriously people, how could they do worse than the experienced clowns that made up the last PC government?

Yes, once they recover from yesterday’s shock, the right-wing opposition will go wild. It is not unreasonable to assume that some elements of the business community will go as far as trying to sabotage the economy, as happened when Bob Rae was premier of Ontario.

Yes, the right-wing press will start by telling us immediately this election result really means Albertans want more conservatism, which it manifestly does not.

Yes, some of Ms. Notley’s strongest supporters will be disappointed and bitter when the realities of politics, which is the art of the possible after all, mean they cannot have their wish list instantly fulfilled.

And, yes, even though it’s springtime in Alberta, it’ll probably snow today.

But while I don’t know about you, I just have the feeling Ms. Notley might very well be up to these challenges!

She was certainly up to the challenge of ending the dynasty started by Peter Lougheed in 1971. And if Mr. Lougheed is watching somewhere, I have a suspicion he might approve almost as much as would Ms. Notley’s dad, Grant Notley, who was the leader of the NDP opposition when he was killed in a plane crash in 1984.

Last Sunday, Ms. Notley urged Albertans not to repeat history, but to make it. Last night they proved they were up to that challenge.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Categories Alberta Politics