Alberta Politics

One year ago today the NDP won in Alberta. The next day hell froze over.

The attention of most Albertans this week is rightfully focused on the wildfires that are raging through northern Alberta and the more than 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray who have fled to safer ground in the south. It is a testament to our resilience as Canadians that a mandatory evacuation order could be carried out in a community of 80,000 people without any violence or resistance.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader
Rachel Notley

Overshadowed by the wildfires, and rightfully so, is today’s anniversary of the major political earthquake that reshaped our province over the past year. On May 5, 2015, Albertans turned their backs on the Progressive Conservative regime that had governed since Peter Lougheed won in 1971 and replaced the old guard with a choice that would have been unbelievable in previous elections, the New Democratic Party.

It wasn’t always a forgone conclusion that Albertans would elect an NDP government. At points during last year’s campaign. Two polls released days before the writ was dropped showed the governing PCs and official opposition Wildrose Party in a race for first place with the NDP in a distant third. Disillusionment with an arrogant and entitled PC regime that had squandered the last oil boom and the pitch-perfect campaign led by Rachel Notley’s NDP resulted in a majority government.

Brian Jean Wildrose
Brian Jean

Those election results exposed a demographic shift, including a split between urban and rural Alberta. The NDP elected most of their 54 MLAs in Alberta’s fast-growing urban areas and central and northern rural Alberta. The Wildrose Party, led by former Member of Parliament Brian Jean won back most of the seats lost in the 2014 floor-crossings and made gains in rural Alberta. Jim Prentice‘s Tories earned 27 percent of the vote but fell victim to the first-past-the-post system and only elected 10 MLAs. The Alberta Party elected its first MLA, leader Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, and the Liberals were reduced to one MLA, interim leader David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP
Joe Ceci

May 5, 2015 saw the election of the a record number of women, including nearly half of the MLAs in the newly minted NDP caucus. The soon to be appointed provincial cabinet would have gender parity, a first in Canada. A contingent of under-30 MLAs were elected, bringing a new sense of diversity into the stodgy Legislative Assembly. Openly gay and lesbian MLAs were elected. And soon after, expecting and new mothers would become a common sight on the floor of the Assembly. Our Legislative Assembly felt more reflective of Alberta than it had in previous years.

The tone of government had changed.

The NDP banned corporate donations to political parties, a move that would never have happened under the corporate-donation fuelled PC Party. The new government not only admitted it believed in Climate Change, it also announced plans to do something about it. The NDP introduced a progressive income tax system and raised corporate taxes. They also reinstated funding to education, health care and post-secondary education that was cut by the PCs in their pre-election budget.

Smart, articulate, tough and quick on her feet, Ms. Notley has proven to be the government’s greatest asset. The senior cabinet ministers surrounding her, Sarah Hoffman, Danielle Larivee, Shannon Phillips, Kathleen GanleyDavid Eggen, Deron Bilous, Joe Ceci and Brian Mason, to name a few, have developed into a stronger team over the past year.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta's 2015 provincial election.
CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta’s 2015 provincial election.

Getting off the royalty rollercoaster’ by fixing a revenue system that was over-reliant on natural resource royalties to fund the government’s operations budget is a central theme of the new government.

Shannon Phillips
Shannon Phillips

A sharp decline in the international price of oil meant the new government faced higher private sector unemployment and decreased activity in the oil industry in our province.

The Alberta Advantage, a myth spun by conservative politicians and pundits over the past twenty years quickly turned into a disadvantage. The low taxes boasted by the previous government turned into a disadvantage when the price of oil dropped and left the province with a $10 billion shortfall in revenue.

Instead of slashing the budget, as the conservative opposition parties would have done, the NDP looked for outside advice from former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge. The budget tabled by Mr. Ceci included investments in infrastructure while keeping operating funding steady to avoid major service cuts and job losses that would increase the province’s unemployment levels.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora
Sarah Hoffman

The NDP plan focuses on stability and job creation but it is yet to be seen whether those large deficits will be embraced by Albertans at the next election. The future of this government, like the PC government before it, may ultimately depend on the international price of oil.

The optimism of the new government masked a certain naivety. Transitioning into the role of government has been challenging.

The transition from a 4-MLA opposition caucus to majority government led the NDP to import senior political staff from across Canada, including those with experience working in Ottawa and for NDP governments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

Kathleen Ganley NDP Calgary Buffalo
Kathleen Ganley

The rushed introduction of new farm safety laws made the NDP look as if they were more interested in dragging rural communities into the 21st century rather than leading them in that direction.

Like something out of the 1950s, Wildrose MLAs and conservative newspaper columnists have become prone to red-baiting, accusing Alberta’s NDP government of holding communist or socialist sympathies. While some individual NDP MLAs have self-identified as socialists, the reality is the new government has been quite moderate and even small-c conservative at times. Ms. Notley has become one of Canada’s strongest advocates for oil pipelines and the NDP even decreased the small business tax from 3 percent to 2 percent in the recent budget.

Days before last year’s election I asked the question, ‘how bad would Alberta’s conservatives need to screw up for Albertans to elect an NDP government.’ We found out on May 5, 2015.

The NDP had been elected in Alberta. Hell had frozen over.

On the morning of May 6, 2015, Albertans woke up to a new government and an unwelcome spring snowstorm. Today, as most Albertans focus on wildfires instead of politics, we can only hope for a repeat of that snowstorm to put an end to the fires ravaging Fort McMurray.

The governments of Alberta and Canada will be matching individual donations made to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal to help the people impacted by the Fort McMurray wildfire. Click here to donate.

9 replies on “One year ago today the NDP won in Alberta. The next day hell froze over.”

Looking back at those early, pre-writ polls, the fact that {NDP + Liberal = plurality} was pretty significant. In hindsight, the opportunity for strategic voting was quite clear, should one offer the obvious alternative. And one definitely did.

May we enjoy skating over the hell left by the previous government and build a better Alberta – as Dylan sang long ago – “Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.”

It is so surprising to me that we always hear about dragging rurals into the 21 st century. They are already there and in some cases leading. They had in place all the private insurance policies that protected farm workers- now those workers are covered by WCB at a greater cost and less benefit. And workers lost jobs as some scaled back operations to ensure that they would manage with just family as opposed to hiring labor during peak operations such as calving or harvest.
These folks are among the best businessman and business women who could pick?
Independant, knowledgeable about land and water and provide some of the best environment for recreation and wildlife. And when they have a bad year, they have prepared for it, no asking for EI – so the remarks that they must be dragged into this century is insulting on a lot of levels. How many unemployed in Alberta can go a year without income- have they prepared like the AG community does.
Show respect for those who put the food on your table!

Good points. Even though I’m an “urban” and don’t have the deeply-ingrained sense of working a farm, family or otherwise, I wince every time someone uses language that implies rural Albertans (or farmers in particular) need to be “led” somewhere.

So How do we square this expertise at the local level with the large number of farm injuries and deaths, which exceed that of other industries by almost every measure? What safeguards were farmers putting in place to protect workers, allow workers to raise issues of concern, and to help those who were injured on the job? During the media coverage of Bill 6 there were some pretty harrowing stories of people being hurt as farm help or ranch hands who were basically left to fend for themselves. In any other industry the employer would have a duty of care but it didn’t seem to be the case. Were these isolated incidents?

As for the bad years, it may be true that there’s no asking for EI, but government assistance to the farm comes in many other ways, including subsidies, risk mitigation programs, and funding for innovation that is not seen in many other industries. My purely anecdotal evidence is that every year there’s a story in the media about farmers asking for relief flooding, drought, a too-short or too-long growing season, and on and on. It seems like family farmers need stability that the physical environment doesn’t exist. Is this true? And if so, is it an overstatement to suggest the Alberta farmer is somehow better equipped than others to handle downturns?

The rural urban divide seems to have widened since the last election, which I think is a bit sad. In the end it will really benefit no one politically. Any party that wants to govern Alberta with a majority will need to have both urban and rural seats.

Alberta is not in the 1950’s anymore and the power of rural votes is greatly diminished. In the end I think rural Alberta will gain more by working with the existing political reality rather than raving against it as some seem to want to do. Urban Albertans can be sympathetic to rural concerns, but perpetual protest, anger and over the top rhetoric can also start to turn them off.

There’s a lot of urban/rural buttons being pressed now that has a lot of people in the rural areas concerned. When Edmonton needs a new landfill it doesn’t look for a location within its boundaries, it looks for a site in the rural area. Same goes for power plants and powerlines. There’s also a simmering issue on industrial tax revenues. Every dollar that an urban area expects a rural jurisdiction to “share” is one less dollar spent on roads or rural services. So as the power base shifts to urban centres, there is an increased fear that rural priorities and protections will be steamrolled for urban convenience. I think one of the reasons why the rural/urban split is growing is that there is decreasing awareness of rural issues in urban centres. The fact that the current government was elected on the strength of the two major urban centres and without the need for the rural vote has only heightened the concerns.

Many harrowing stories about someone left in the lurch after an accident on the far or ranch or agribusiness. I can think of one.
I reintegrate most farms and ranches are covered by private insurance which offered better coverage at a lower cost.
I do not think that stats reveal that farms and ranches had an rate of injury surpassing all other industry. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples, and make sure that you are talking about farming accidents as opposed to accidents on a farm. For example, an ATV overturns and injures or kills someone- that happens when people are on ATV trails- so that would be an accident on a trail.
As far as farmer/ ran support- you talk about subsidies – really name one. Yes there are innovation funds just like there are for oil and gas, technology etc. Crop disaster- we insure against hail, drought etc. It is not free money from the govt

Farmers and ranchers are smart business people who have many unknowns in their lives and they prepare for them- probably many more risks than the average business as it is certainly weather related

And the people that harrowing stories – the couple that I know of sued and got adequately compensated. And that is appropriate as anyone silly enough not to have insurance is exposed to a lawsuit.
And many other accidents that one hears about – well they were accidents- such as the little boy who drown in the dugout- no different that the kid who drown in the swimming pool. A tragedy but it was an accident.
Anyway, as I say many do not take the time to connect with farmers and ranchers to u derstand the industry. I again ask for respect

As far as ranchers and farmers working with the govt- oh believe me they have tried! Those working groups for Bill 6 well many have applied to be on the groups-none have happened. Many groups have asked for a sit down so that govt ministers can u derstand – turned away.
But we are ever hopeful. For now most are downsizing to make sure they do not need employees. Other large operations went to WCB cause they have to, but as it is more expensive they are shedding jobs.

Every Alberta worker is covered by WCB, which is no-fault and at no cost to the employee… except (until Bill 6) agricultural employees. Why were farm workers second-class citizens? What is wrong with extending workplace protections enjoyed by each and every other employee in Alberta, and indeed by agricultural employees in almost every other part of Canada, to Alberta’s farm workers? Don’t they deserve equal treatment? Why can’t farmers compete on a level playing field with their peers in other provinces?

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