Rachel Notley, not yet the premier of Alberta, moments after her election victory was announced on the evening of May 5, 2015.

CALGARY Three years ago today, Albertans did the unexpected in the province’s 29th general election and elected a majority New Democratic Party government.

In truth, despite Albertans having been instructed for generations by those who are supposed to know better that they lived in the most conservative province in Canada, what voters did was not completely unexpected.

Robert Reich, former labour secretary of the Clinton Administration and a harsh critic of the Trump Administration, speaking to reporters in Calgary last night.

From a macro point of view, it had been obvious for a while that significant demographic change was occurring in Alberta, and it seemed likely that one of these days … eventually … perhaps even soon … Albertans would be ready to do something other than just metronomically reelect Progressive Conservative governments.

From the micro perspective, it was certainly becoming apparent in the weeks and days before the election that voters were flowing to the NDP and its new leader, Rachel Notley, who had been chosen by the party only in the fall of the previous year.

Still, there’s big difference between sensing change is coming, or even having evidence that it is, and seeing it take place before your eyes. So the events of the evening of May 5, 2015, shocked almost everyone even if they ought not to have been all that shocking.

Well, what did you expect? After nearly 44 years of PC government, and 35 years of Social Credit before that, there was a tiny Tory in the back of every true Albertan’s head who was always whispering, “No you can’t!”

In the immediate aftermath of big change – the morning after the night before, as it were – a lot of commentators struggled to come to terms with Alberta’s new political reality.

“They 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,” I wrote on this blog that night, adding … “Actually, I think the national broadcaster might want to update that script!”

Notwithstanding what you’ve been told ever since by the usual suspects on the right, I still think that. Whatever happens after the general 30th general election expected in the spring of next year, assuming Premier Notley’s government plays along with the silly PC “fixed election period” law that still clutters up Alberta’s statutes, this place will never again be quite the same as it was before the Cinco de Mayo 2015.

Ms. Notley’s victory made it clear that Alberta 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. This remains true even if there is another change of government in 2019.

“Once they recover from yesterday’s shock,” I predicted in that first post-election commentary, “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. … The right-wing press will start by telling us immediately this election result really means Albertans want more conservatism.”

In addition, I also predicted, “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.”

All this has come true in spades.

Of course Jim Prentice, the last PC premier of Alberta, inadvertently helped the NDP with one of the most spectacularly awful campaigns imaginable – a combination of lame strategy, bad luck, and a tin ear that didn’t seem capable of picking up what Albertans were telling him, which was not to call an early election.

The NDP presumably understands that it can’t expect a break like that again from the conservative movement. Right now, the tides seem to be running in favour of the United Conservative Party led by former Harper Government cabinet minister Jason Kenney, a thought that is bound to be emphasized as the party opens its first convention as a legal entity today in Red Deer. Notwithstanding the anniversary, it is likely to be a celebratory occasion, as befits a confident front-runner.

In Calgary last night, though, nearly 1,000 people gathered to hear a speech by Robert Reich, Public Policy Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, U.S. secretary of labour in President Bill Clinton’s administration, and an aggressive social media critic of the Trump Administration and its ilk elsewhere.

The topic of his remarks at the event organized by the Alberta Federation of Labour: “Saving Capitalism: Income Inequality and Populism.”

His point wasn’t that modern capitalism needs to be replaced by some other economic system. Rather, he argued, the choice now is what kind of capitalism we want, and we do have a choice. “Capitalism comes in many flavours.”

“The issue is not capitalism versus socialism,” he told a questioner. “The issue is what kind of capitalism. Is it capitalism that is human centred, centred on social justice, and the needs of people, or is it harsh capitalism that makes a few people very, very wealthy and almost everybody else frightened. Morally you cannot run a society in which only a few gain the benefits and most people are on the losing end.”

“You can’t even do it as a matter of economics,” he added, “because if you start losing your middle class, you don’t have enough aggregate demand for all the goods and services you’re producing.”

He described political discourse in the United States today in similar terms. “The essential debate in the United States is not between the left and the right, it is not between the Democrats and the Republicans, it’s between progressive populists and authoritarian populists.”

It’s hard not to see the choice between another government led by Ms. Notley and one led by Mr. Kenney in a very similar light.

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  1. For the NDP to get re-elected, they need Calgarians that have not ever benefited much from the petro-boom to come out in droves in the 2019 election.

    It’s mostly a relatively smaller, narrower group, the 1%, of Calgarians that have made out like bandits from AB’s petro-industry growth in the last decade and a half.


    EXCERPT: ‘ The new data shows that incomes (adjusted for inflation) for the top 1% of Albertans doubled between 1982 and 2010 with an increase of $320,000 while the bottom 90% of Albertans saw their incomes increase by a total of only $3,900 over the same time period.

    “These numbers reinforce what we’ve been saying for the last few years,” says Parkland’s Research Director Shannon Stunden Bower. “Only a small number of Albertans are seeing the benefits of the province’s natural resource wealth and prosperity.”’

    Ok… pedantic reminder: Economic class matters in Alberta politics.

  2. “The issue is not capitalism versus socialism,” Of course not. But Reich is still stuck in 1985.

    We all, already all socialists to some extent. We have spectacularly ‘mixed economies’ …
    We collect tax to pay for roads, schools, etc. And we generally collect more from the rich than poor, though some idiots (following the Thatcher/Reagan tradition) are successfully attacking that.

    The USA does the wealth redistribution a little differently (ie on soldiers & prison guards) than we do here (on universal health care) .
    Currently Norway has the best ‘mix’ in their economy. A rational world would study and emulate.

    In the future our biggest challenge, as we face the biggest human crisis ever, is …
    will it be a Mad-Max capitalist free-for-all race to the bottom or a socialist share-what-is-left survival scenario?

  3. “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.”

    That does not explain or justify Notley’s failures on the science / environmental front nor her cheerleading for pipelines and massive oilsands expansion.

    The NDP Govt has decided to run out the clock on the caribou.
    • w w w [dot] cbc [dot] ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-caribou-plan-shannon-philips-1 [dot] 4583526
    • edmontonjournal [dot] com/news/politics/ndp-suspends-caribou-conservation-plan-calls-on-federal-government-for-cash-infusion

    In opposition, the AB NDP voiced support for a comprehensive healthy study on cancers in Fort Chipewyan.
    Now the only sound is crickets.

    Notley’s tiny carbon tax to buy “social licence” for pipelines was a complete bungle.

    Naomi Klein (06-Feb-18): “AB has a left-wing political party in power, one that has somehow convinced itself it can beat the right by being a better suck up to Big Oil.”

    Trying to outconservative the conservatives on energy and environment in vain hope of re-election was always going to be a bust. Conservatives will vote for the real thing, while the NDP alienates traditional supporters. Huge miscalculation.
    Better to provide sound, principled govt based on the best available science and retire after one term with your integrity intact. But I’m not sure this NDP Party ever had any.

    On pipelines, oilsands expansion, boosting AB’s emissions, and science denial, Notley and Kenney are Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
    Banished to the opposition benches for the next generation, the New Denialist Party will be able to say nothing about oilsands expansion, oil & gas pollution, and climate inaction — because they leapt into bed with Big Oil when in office.
    No necessity. That was a choice.

    1. ‘Fraid so, Geoffrey. One slight saving grace: the AB NDP’s demise will come before the next federal election, freeing up the federal party to acquire a bit more spine on the climate file.

    2. I, too, would prefer a political party as pure as spun rainbow, powered by teams of fucking unicorns. If you think you can start one that can win an election in Alberta, be my guest. I might even vote for it. What I would not expect is that it could form a government in the universe as presently constituted.

      The NDP are not trying to “out-conservative the conservatives”. They are trying to represent the wishes and interests of an electorate large enough to win the next election. You and your small herd of purity ponies are not enough, not by an order of magnitude.

      To be frank, I think you are delusional.

      1. @ Death and Gravity:
        Maybe it’s delusional to think that cheerleading pipelines will somehow win Notley the next election against a unified right-wing party.
        No, strike the “maybe”.
        Who is deluded? Conservatives would not vote NDP even if Notley built a billion pipelines. Conservatives who want oil industry flacks and flunkies in power will vote for the real thing.

        Never mind the next election. The NDP was given a mandate for climate leadership in the LAST election. Also, a mandate to give Albertans their fair share in royalties. No mandate for new export pipelines.
        The NDP cynically reversed its positions and reneged on its promises.

        The NDP had one chance to challenge the oil industry (as they did for years in opposition) and put AB on track for a sustainable future.
        They blew it.

  4. I did not know what to expect when Rachael Notley was elected.

    I did however feel very strongly about two things. The first was that is not healthy for a political party to remain in power for more than two or three terms. Entitlement sets it. It becomes more about the party in power, their friends and supporters, than it does about effective and fair Government. Certainly prior Conservative Governments proved this point.

    Apart from the above, I had decided that I could not vote Conservative based on their abysmal record over the previous five years. While I liked Jim Prentice it was the party that I voted against although Prentice did appear to possess the arrogance of his predecessors.

    I have been fairly happy with the Notley Government. Seems to me that they are most similar to the Lougheed Conservatives. She has done a good job in the face of major economic headwinds. And she has passed some legislation that was on the Conservative promise but never deliver list for a long time.

    My fear for the UCP is that their membership is much more slanted to the social conservatives than is the Alberta voter.
    Wildrose learned this the hard way. I truly hope that Jason Kenney is cognizant of this and acts first in the interest of all Albertans rather than believing that the makeup of his party members are representative of Albertans. I may vote for the UCP next time. But…not if they continue on about ‘socialist’ nonsense that they like to trot out from time to time. As a point of comparision Notley is willing to invest money in TCP. Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer recently came out in opposition to this notion. Strange turn of events and not what one would expect. Seems to me that we are fortunate in Alberta. Notley is out of sync with the Federal NDP and Kenney is out of sync with the Federal Conservatives on this issue.

  5. UCP is the same as the old Social Credit Government we had back in the day that messed this province up and then the PC’s got into power. Social Credit Policy is hold the bible in one hand with an H Bomb in the other. It took Alberta years to rid itself of Social Credit and now we have the UCP hiding under sheep’s clothing to bring this same bigot party back into power. No thank you.

  6. Jason Kenney promises Ministry of Truth:

    “We will set up a fully staffed rapid response war room in government to quickly and effectively rebut every lie told by the green left about our world class energy industry,” he said.

    “We will pass a law banning foreign money from being spent by special interests during Alberta elections.”

    Kenney said a UCP government would create a special legislature committee to probe the sources of foreign money funding any groups working against Alberta’s interests.

    He vowed to fight through the courts if necessary to get Ottawa to strip charitable status from “bogus charities” such as the David Suzuki foundation.

    Kenney also reiterated earlier comments to take actions on lenders working against Alberta’s interests, such as HSBC.

    HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, announced last month it would no longer finance fossil fuel ventures such as pipelines and oilsands.

    “If companies like HSBC decide to boycott our oilsands, our government will boycott them,” said Kenney, adding that he will be rounding up allies.


    Very small-government and non-interventionist. I guess “foreign money” means from outside Alberta.

  7. I agree with your observations. The Notley NDP bought into the whole cargo cult that more pipelines would bring prosperity back to the province (for most of us it proved to be an illusion as most booms are). So it is no surprise we now have leaders on the horizon pretending they can lead the cult better.

    But consider the alternative. Mr. Kenney has a record.

    The NDP were innocent enough to assume they were taking charge of government, when in fact the government of Alberta is largely a creature of big business. The NDP’s Kumbaya culture meant they failed to clean house – too bad, so sad.

    But it is still a long two years before a new election must be called and the Notley NDP still have a chance to put in place positive legislation that will stand the test of time.

  8. When Rachel Notley was elected she promised to get Alberta off the oil and gas revenue roller coaster. What she found out once in power was how politically difficult this is to do. No Alberta government has balanced the budget in Alberta without energy revenues in over 40 years. Many say lets diversify the economy, green energy is the future. At present corporate taxes bring in about $4 billion dollars per year. Energy royalties are about $3 billion. What percentage of the corporate taxes come from profitable energy companies? I don’t know but even if it is 25% it would be significant. So this is the Premier’s problem. Recent polling done for the CBC showed 66% of Albertan’s are against the carbon tax, 73% of Albertan’s are against a sales tax. So yes you can glibly say lets shut down the oil industry, solar and wind are the future. But how much tax revenue can really be created by importing solar panels from China and windmills from the USA or Denmark or China. With the oil industry it is a double whammy, corporate profits and oil royalties, 2 for 1 deal. And remember the NDP have projected to balance the budget in 23-24 we will need $10.5 billion in royalties from oil and gas. They are doubling down and spending it all! Enjoy your day

  9. Yes, May 5th was a very historic day in Alberta. It was the day the PC dynasty was toppled and the NDP became the first new party to govern the province since 1971.

    Like many long governing parties, the PC’s seemed at times invincible and some elections over the last 40 years seemed more like a formality than a real contest. However, despite the appearance of invincibility the rot had set in some time ago. Once could argue the PC’s were not one dynasty, but at least four different regimes: the Lougheed years, the Getty years, the Klein years and lastly the de-Klein era. The party had some ability to re-invent itself in the eyes of the voters which staved off defeat more than once, but even for such a successful re-inventor, one can only remake itself so many times before the voters become cynical or confused by it all. In the end, I don’t think anyone could really answer the question what do the PC’s stand for, with anything much except for staying in power. I had thought after the PC’s lost the election, that someone would eventually pick up the pieces and try put humpty dumpty back together again in some fashion, but apparently some could not wait for that and Kenney decided it would be better to kill the PC’s rather than revive them. I’m not sure it was a mercy killing, the PC’s probably just needed a bit of time in the political wilderness to learn, reflect and get over that arrogance they had developed, which a couple of terms in opposition would have helped.

    Instead we now have the UCP, which tries to downplay its PC legacy, so I am not sure they have learned anything from the PC debacle. It is true the NDP will not benefit from vote splitting between Wildrose and the PC’s in the next election, although there is the wildcard Alberta Party now comprising an eclectic collection of disgruntled former PC’s and Liberals. However, the UCP is also not running against a party with only four members with little experience in government. The NDP are now the incumbents, with a large number of MLAs and getting more experience in government every day.

    I think it very much remains to see if Kenney’s gamble of first killing humpty dumpty will indeed be the best way to put it back together again. I am still skeptical.

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