Two days later it is still hard to believe. The New Democratic Party won an election in Alberta? The NDP won a majority government in Alberta? Rachel Notley is the next Premier of Alberta? Get used to it, because Albertans have spoken.
A change in government is a good thing for Alberta. It was desperately needed.
As I wrote on election night, it would be a mistake to believe this election signals Albertans have shifted to the political left.This election was never about ideology and Albertans remain largely politically moderate. This defining narrative of this campaign was trust and accountability, and on this issue Albertans turned away from Jim Prentice‘s Progressive Conservatives and embraced Ms. Notley’s moderate and progressive Lougheed-esq platform. The “time for a change” narrative was too strong for the PCs to survive.
But it could still be a while before it stops sounding totally strange. I have never seen another party form government in Alberta until this week. The PCs were first elected 12 years before I was born. My parents were in junior high school when Peter Lougheed became Premier. And this week that dynasty, which governed Alberta for forty-four straight years, collapsed in a spectacular fashion.
Only one week ago, days before their defeat, the Tories revved up their impressive fundraising machine with a $500 per plate dinner in downtown Edmonton that raised around $800,000 in one night. A similar fundraising dinner, which I am told was sold out, is scheduled to be held on May 14 in Calgary.
But now electorally demolished, on their way out of government and without a leader following Mr. Prentice’s election night resignation, will the PC Party go on? Who will show up for the pricy dinner now that there will be no Premier at the podium or cabinet ministers to dine and wine with? What is the future of the PC Party, now that it is no longer in government?
Albertans wanted a change and they sent a message loud and clear.
On Tuesday night, 74 new MLAs were elected. Forty-nine of those new MLAs will sit in the government benches and 20 will be in opposition, including 18 in the resurgent conservative Wildrose Official Opposition led by Brian Jean. The average age of Alberta’s MLAs also tumbled from 52 years old to
36 40 years old after this election and almost half of the NDP caucus will be made up of women MLAs.
The government and opposition now hold differing political views, a difference from the past legislature which could help create an atmosphere of real debate in the Legislative Assembly. This marks a seismic change in a Alberta’s political environment that has been dominated by one party for four decades.
Any new government can be expected to make lots of rookie mistakes, but the incoming Premier has spent the days following the election to set a pragmatic and moderate tone for the new government.
Ms. Notley made a point of using her first days after the election to set a positive tone with Alberta’s energy industry leaders, many who are also likely seeing their first change in government in Alberta. Ms. Notley has repeatedly made clear what Albertans already know: that energy industry is key to our economy. And the NDP Government’s proposed royalty review and modest increase to corporate taxes will ensure the role of Energy Minister remains very important in the new cabinet.
Energy Minister could be a role so important that Ms. Notley takes it on the responsibility herself, as Mr. Prentice took on the extra roles of Aboriginal Relations and Intergovernmental Affairs when he became Premier in September 2014.
While some fear-mongering conservatives, still bitter from their first electoral loss in 44 years, are predicting that the entire energy industry will pack up and leave because Albertans voted in a new government, there is an opportunity for corporate leaders to create a respectful working relationship with the new Alberta Government. And for Albertans, it could be refreshing change to have a government that acts like a partner with the energy industry rather than a wholly owned subsidiary of the energy industry. Albertans want to ensure they are getting their fair share of the wealth collected from their natural resources and industry, quite fairly, wants to know they will be treated fairly by the new government.
As Ms. Notley’s NDP Caucus transitions into their new role as government, the first time this has happened in 44 years, there are still a lot of unknowns. When will a new budget be tabled? When will the Legislative Assembly sit next? Will there be any major changes in the senior ranks of the public service? Will Alberta’s position on major national issues drastically change? Who will be appointed to cabinet?
We can expect incumbent NDP MLAs Brian Mason, David Eggen, and Deron Bilous to be at the cabinet table. Other possible cabinet appointments could include Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman (former Edmonton Public School Board chair), Calgary-Fort MLA Joe Ceci (former Calgary Alderman), Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips (policy analyst), Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner (former Public Services Commissioner for Medicine Hat), Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Bob Turner (Doctor), St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud (non-profit executive director), and Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley MLA Margaret Mccuaig-Boyd (former Vice-President of Grande Prairie College), Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kathleen Ganley (labour lawyer), Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette (university instructor) and Calgary-Varsity MLA Stephanie McLean (criminal defence lawyer). And while their critics have focused on the perceived inexperience of new MLAs, we should not be surprised to see some of these unlikely politicians excel in their new roles.
There will be a lot of unknowns in Alberta politics in the coming months and years. This is not a bad thing. In most provinces it is completely normal. We live in a democracy and can expect, from time to time, that voters will decide it is someone else’s turn to govern.
Change is good. And while it still might be a while before it is easy to believe, Albertans sent a clear message on May 5 that they wanted a change in Edmonton, and they got it.
On Wednesday morning I joined Ryan Jespersen and Steven Dollansky on 630 CHED to talk about this week’s historic NDP election win in Alberta, the Wildrose resurgence and the collapse of the 43-year old PC dynasty.