Conservative dynasty crushed
Photo Credit/Dave Cournoyer
Just say it: “Rachel Notley and the NDP government in Alberta …”
It still seems surreal.
On Tuesday night, Alberta saw a 44-year-old political dynasty come to an end, defeated by the NDP’s Rachel Notley. What should have been an easy romp in the tar sands for Jim Prentice saw the PC Party reduced to a third place finish behind the NDP and the surviving
right-wing populist opposition, the Wildrose Party.
What happened wasn’t merely the result of a stunning election performance by one party. This was something that the province had been building towards for the last decade. It cannot be overstated how much Alberta did not want Alison Redford in the government after the former Premier was re-elected in 2012. Everything about her style screamed excessive spending, right up until the point when she finally packed her (large) bags and jetted away to California. Still, fear of the Wildrose Party taking power scared enough centre-left voters to re-elect the PCs. In fact, voter turnout was 14% higher in 2012 than it was four years prior.
Throughout all this, Danielle Smith and her Wildrose Party slowly siphoned off whatever PC support they could. For a time, the Wildrose seemed poised to take the government they had lost in 2012. It seemed like Smith’s party had nowhere to go but up, and, to an extent, it did — it went up in flames.
The arrival of the former Federal Conservative Minister Jim Prentice as PC leader in 2014 saw Smith and most of her caucus vanish in a floor cross stemming from an unclear backroom deal.
The economy experienced a downturn that forced Prentice to raise some taxes on everyone but the corporations, a move he somehow blamed on voters. Despite backlash for this gaffe, Prentice went ahead and called an election on May 5 to secure his mandate for the next four years.
Yet somehow, in the election’s first week, polls began to showconsistent climbing in support for the NDP, while the PCs slipped. Was it a glitch, or the start of a trend? People kept questioning it into the second week when the PCs dropped to third and the NDP went to first. How could it happen? By week three, shortly after the debates, the idea still hadn’t fully sunk in that the social democratic NDP, a party which had never held government, would govern the country’s most conservative region. Nonsense. Hogwash.
Week four, the impossible became reality.
May 5 saw voters turn to the only seemingly viable option to displace the Tory government. The provincial Liberals saw much of their vote migrate to the NDP as their interim leader barely held on to his own seat. Wildrose had lost its populist touch, and many voters could not stomach the idea of it governing anyway. The NDP was an established alternative despite the limited local appeal of its federal arm.
Federally, Mulcair and the NDP have a single MP in Edmonton, and Mulcair remains a much more polarizing figure in the province than any other party leader. Much, if not all, of what explains the NDP’s provincial appeal is also what led Quebecers to elect the federal NDP in 2011 — the leader’s appeal. Rachel Notley didn’t try to be anything she wasn’t or reel in voters with false hope. She simply set up shop, pitched her idea and waited.
On the other hand, the PC government produced a budget that they thought they could win with, knowing fully well it was unpopular; they just didn’t realize how vocally voters would express their frustration and how quickly they would punish such arrogance.
Yet the conservative base, while displaced, has not vanished. Wildrose leader Brian Jean took home 21 seats, holding down a tent that may very well have blown over into oblivion. It seems a certainty that they will remain a force for a few more years, but whether they hold on as the dominant right wing party will depend on whether the PCs ever recover from this defeat or not.
It is also interesting, of course, to consider Stephen Harper’s role in producing this outcome. Since coming to power in 2006, economic priority has been given to Alberta’s oil sands over other industries and economic development in Quebec and Ontario. Perhaps consequently, more people are moving from the Eastern provinces and more immigrants are choosing to settle in Alberta and British Columbia. The once solid conservative vote has diversified so that more progressive options like the NDP (as well as Liberals and Greens) are not just seen as wasted votes, but as viable conduits for change.
Provincially, Canada is now as progressive a nation as ever. British Columbia and Saskatchewan are run by sound fiscal managers like Christie Clark and Brad Wall, while progressive intellectuals like Kathleen Wynne and Philippe Couillard run Ontario and Québec. Rachel Notley will be joining a good group of colleagues and hopefully help start a new chapter in Canadian history.