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

Posted on May 06, 2015, 4:38 am
9 mins

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.

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

  1. Northern Loon

    May 6th, 2015

    What a night, and what an election campaign!

    Rachel Notley and the NDP proved that you can win with a positive campaign and a leader and candidates who resonate with the electorate. The polls proved to be correct and the unthinkable landslide victory occurred.

    So hell has frozen over, pigs have flown and yes the sun will come up and oil will still continue to flow.

    Rachel delivered another pitch perfect speech and has been careful to not promise the moon and the stars, but instead years of good governance and hard work for the people. Rachel is the leader everyone involved in politics dreams of.

    Our province is in good hands with Rachel as Premier, and if anyone is worried about young candidates going off half-cocked then they haven’t seen Brian Mason keeping control of a mostly Wildrose Caucus

    • Expat Albertan

      May 6th, 2015

      That is frickin’ HILARIOUS!! Cpl Notley has sure come a long way.

  2. May 6th, 2015

    But of course any unflattering economic results may be attributed to s fifth column of “sabotaging” business interests. Venezuela’s Chavistas often assert this sort out of conspiracy. The only missing allegation here is an insinuation about the nefarious influence of Washington D.C. in the people’s democracy.

  3. K. Larsen

    May 6th, 2015

    This does make history, but Alberta has a very rich cooperative history. The NDP (formerly known as the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation) and Premier-elect Notley stand on the shoulders of that legacy.

  4. Bloozguy

    May 6th, 2015

    I have said it elsewhere and I’ll say it here. Though, this will be an NDP government, it will be an ALBERTA NDP government. That is to say I don’t expect a lefty dream come true. Probably more Joe Clark than Jack Layton, although more NDP than B.C. Liberal is in any way Liberal.

  5. jerrymacgp

    May 6th, 2015

    There is a message here, too, for those defeatists on the left & centre-left who have argued for years that the only way to rid ourselves of the Tories is to merge the non-Conservative parties. The NDP had the energy, the strength and momentum to toss the Tories out all on our own, with little or no help from the fading Liberals or the still not yet ready for prime time Alberta Party.

    I’m a teeny, tiny bit sorry for Ms Blakeman, who lost her seat in Edm-Centre, but now she is free to tear up her Liberal membership & join the NDP. Whether she does or not, though, her bid to unite the not quite progressive enough forces has failed miserably.

  6. Rod Feland

    May 6th, 2015

    and this morning it is snowing… has hell frozen over? or perhaps just the start of a “spring cleaning” that will provide moisture and fertile ground for a new seed to take root?

  7. prairie observer

    May 6th, 2015

    Your column describes exactly the emotions and arguments that existed in Saskatchewan both before and after the election of the CCF to government in June, 1944. Anyone wishing further insight as to what challenges may exist in the future for this new government should read about this era of Saskatchewan history.

    Lotsa of time to wax the old T-Bird now.

  8. Sean

    May 6th, 2015

    All excellent points. Bi-elections offer oprtunities for potential cabinet ministers,,,

    ABndp needs to stay grounded in ab. Strategies firms breathing very thin air all around , these days.

    There is lots of energy in Alberta beyond to carbon kind.

    Will there be a mass exodus? Where would they go, Vancouver…..why not. Go to Toronto. Go to Montreal. Wait till they meet progressive activists in those cities.
    Everybody please share David’s columns.
    Smiles all around.

  9. B.

    May 6th, 2015

    All I can do is breathe a sigh of relief. It will most definitely NOT be an easy run for the NDP. They will face hostility and obstruction all the way. But it just seems that Alberta may have gotten to be a more humane place.

  10. Filostrato

    May 6th, 2015

    Heard the news this morning. Congratulations to all Albertans. There’s hope for the rest of us yet.

  11. David

    May 6th, 2015

    Being fairly new to checking out your site, I was finding some of the articles on here interesting. Then today, I read this: “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.” Perhaps this was a joke, or slip up occurring due to writing an article while intoxicated? Certainly no one with any common sense could possibly excuse Rae for that havoc he wrecked upon Ontario.

  12. David Grant

    May 6th, 2015

    I agree with David that it is good news. For years, I have had some sense of shame that I was born in this province because of this political culture and now I don’t feel that way. I am hopeful that this will be a beginning of something better for the province. Regrettably, this is the first time I watched this election with my parents who were very passionate about their home province. They left this earth not knowing that change was possible. If they were here they would be shocked and surprised and proud of their province. Let’s make sure that this government does live up to their promises.

  13. Expat Albertan

    May 6th, 2015

    Congratulations, my beloved Alberta brethren!! I’m so very proud of my home province – you’ve shown that you can be the change that you want to have! In one fell swoop, you have gone from being the most conservative province in confederation to the most progressive – with a female premier and a caucus that is half-female – fantastic!!!

  14. May 6th, 2015

    #There was never an attempt to raise royalty under #Stelmach! On the eve of that election the Government released a .pdf #”Alberta’s new Royalty Regime” #The election key was Royalty and the lack of them.

    This .pdf was full of sky-high impossible numbers. Too high for the wildest dreams and they were put out to impress the relatively #ignorant public the Cons were actually doing something. During the Election, there was huge theater. #Oil companies decrying the robbery; business going down the tubes and so on, all of them knowing it was phony document. Then, employees scared, got onto the net and further perpetuated the lie until it shows up here again today.

    During the debate, the NDP’s Brian Mason made a proper argument about the royalties and the person who was in line to topple to Government. The Liberal’s Kevan Taft had nothing to say at all. The day after the election, #Taft made turkey noises about redefining the agenda.
    Oil companies and Financial post keep referring to this document as being a serious effort to raise royalty rates by Stelmach. Doing what I can to put it behind us.

    Before this debate. the #Alberta Liberals were 600,000 dollars in debt. After the election and Stelmach was installed, the Liberals had no debt at all. Taft threw the Election!

    And today the oil interests are still pushing that BS in the face of a 1% royalty increase.
    Don’t buy any of it! It was not real then and it didn’t get any better over time!

    There was one line on the very bottom of the page “All Royalty will be taken in Canadian dollars” That part they used, it cost the province 18% at that point in time switching from the US dollar value to the Canadian dollar value.

  15. David Grant

    May 6th, 2015

    I agree with Expat Albertan. We have a lot to be proud of. I would have been happy to see the Liberals or the Alberta Party as well because we need change. I would hope that the Wildrose will be a constructive opposition to the NDP. This is important to have. I don’t want to see a NDP dynasty because would be just as bad as the PC dynasty which was displaced. One issue I intend to raise with my MLA is the privatization of health services. Recently, my family was billed $250.00 for the ambulance trip to the morgue. This is something that I hope can be fixed.

  16. Sage Chow

    May 6th, 2015

    “Alberta that is more like the rest of Canada – more humane, more inclusive, more respectful, more democratic…”

    As if! Alberta is the far from being the disrespectful, exclusive place you are implying. The people are the true indicators of a province. While the election of NDP reflects an open minded population, this has long been the case for the last decade. Its not just about which political party is in power. By first hand experience, the people of Alberta, and therefore Alberta itself, are kind, open handed, and open hearted.

    • David Grant

      May 10th, 2015

      For sure, there are a lot of kind hearted people here, but a lot of those kind-hearted people voted for the very cold policies of the PCs. They allowed them to get away with a lot of things that most people in other provinces wouldn’t tolerate. Living in Calgary during the 1990’s didn’t display a lot of kindness or compassion. If you aren’t an engineer or someone making a good living in Calgary, then life can be very difficult. There are lot of people who are hard-working, but they don’t feel part of the Albertan success story. That needs to change and perhaps there is a possible to change some of that. I think Alberta has gotten the bad rap because of some good reasons. This election allows us to turn a page.


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