Alberta Politics

Two years later – Notley’s NDP victory and a reminder why Elections matter

Two years ago today Albertans voted to sweep out the old Progressive Conservative government by electing Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party into government.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader
Rachel Notley

It was a surreal election that topped off a tumultuous decade in Alberta politics. It used to be said that politics in our province was boring, and that may have been true at one point. But when PC Party members delivered a stunning blow to Ralph Klein in a March 2006 leadership review, politics never seemed to get dull again in Alberta. And while no one in 2006 could, or would, have predicted an NDP win in 2015, the years of PC Party infighting and corruption marked the steep decline of a once proud PC Party establishment.

The 2015 election shows more than anything else how much campaigns matter. Even though Albertans were visibly growing tired of the old establishment conservatives, the PCs were widely expected to win a 13th re-election victory. It was almost hard to imagine any other outcome.

The Wildrose Party, which was a grasp away from forming government in 2012, was decimated by floor crossings in 2014.

On May 5, 2015, the NDP did what only one week early felt unimaginable – they formed a majority government in Alberta. It was a strange and wild election campaign.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora
Sarah Hoffman

While it looked as if the NDP might form the official opposition in that election, over the course of the election Notley chipped away at Jim Prentice’s campaign, gaining momentum through a positive and hopeful campaign that contrasted to the uninspiring institutional campaign presented by the PCs.

From Notley’s masterful performance in the televised leader’s debate to a train-wreck press conference held by four prominent CEOs, there were many key moments and events that provided a clear indication that the campaign was going well for the NDP and very, very poorly for the PCs.

I had never voted for the NDP in a provincial election until 2015. I had been a supporter of the Liberal Party led by Kevin Taft in the 2000s and was part of the group that tried to build the Alberta Party before the 2012 election. During that time, I frequently scoffed at the NDP as being merely an Edmonton-based vote-splitter and an annoying minor competitor (albeit an incredibly effective annoying competitor).

But in Notley I saw a political leader who had sparked momentum and energy in Albertans. She was progressive, urban, smart and tough – a natural replacement for a tired conservative government that had spent decades squandering and mismanaging Alberta’s energy wealth.

Shannon Phillips
Shannon Phillips

As a government, the NDP faced a steep learning curve and have had their highs and lows.

Notley started off with an inexperienced small circle of cabinet minsters. She slowly expanded the cabinet with talent identified from the MLA backbenches of the new government caucus and since then many cabinet ministers have grown into their roles quite comfortably. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig Boyd, Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean, Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, and Education Minister David Eggen, to name a few, have become some of the strongest and most passionate progressive voices of Alberta’s government.

But most of all, Notley has grown into her role as Premier. She was then during the election campaign and remains now the NDP’s strongest asset in Alberta.

While they have made some embarrassing political mistakes, enflaming conservative critics along the way (while also inheriting some of the old PC government’s bad habits), Notley’s NDP government has started to catch its stride.

Danielle Larivee
Danielle Larivee

As I wrote earlier this month, the NDP subtly shifted their messaging over the past few months, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans,” rather than trying to out-flank the conservatives on economic issues. And it is working well for the NDP.

Notley’s NDP have reshaped Alberta’s political landscape and provided a much needed breath of fresh air into the once stale conservative halls of government. While I would not place a bet on the outcome of the next election, Conservative politicians who brag about dancing a cakewalk back into government in 2019 should be reminded that it might not be that easy.

The mould was broken in the 2015 election. No party should take the votes of Albertans for granted again.

8 replies on “Two years later – Notley’s NDP victory and a reminder why Elections matter”

Campaigns and elections do matter, it’s just too bad the NDP, who are more likely than not on their first and only time forming government, seem to have squandered their good fortune.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with the moderate Red Dippers that the Notley NDP are, but if you’ve got this one shot at a majority government, try *doing* something with it.

I predicted the resignation of Prentice on election night 2015. I will go out on a limb and say Kenney will resign in disgrace election night 2019 when the Notley NDP increases their 2015 seat count. Kenney is so far out of the mainstream of the 21st century Alberta reality

I reckon if the PC/WRP doesn’t happen, the WRP will increase its hold on rural Alberta and encroach on the PCs in Calgary and their two rural ridings. I expect the NDP will lose some of the few rural seats they have to the WRP as well. Jean has proven somewhat immune to the WRP’s leader eating. I don’t see them gaining beyond Clark and Swann’s seats in Calgary. You’ll see a slightly smaller majority (~48 seats) in 2019. I hope Fildebrandt loses his seat, but I doubt he will.

It seems some Conservatives are still at the denial stage in dealing with their loss, even though it was now two years ago. They have had plenty of time now to absorb the message and lessons from the election, but they still seem to be going around and talking about the accidental election of the NDP and how it will be a one term government if they just unite the right. Actually, it seems like uniting the right was exactly what Jim Prentice tried to do and it sure didn’t work out well for him.

There are a lot of fundamental problems that Alberta Conservatives still do not seem to want to deal with or acknowledge. The last PC government was a shambles and chaotic. It got elected on a leftist progressive mandate, but seemed to have few principles and quickly morphed into a centre right government. This seems to indicate to me that right of centre policy may not be the easy sell to voters it seemed to be say during some of the time of Ralph Klein. I also think there is a great deal of cynicism ou there about whether supposedly right of centre politicians are trying to reunite out of principle or just to regain power. Albertans still remember the cronyism and all the ethical challenges of the later day PC’s and I think any party that includes the PC’s will inherit some of the taint of that.

Unite the Right is an easy slogan, but it is just dealing with the symptoms, not the underlying problems. It would be good for those on the right to remember and learn from all the reasons why they became divided, before they quickly try to patch Humpty Dumpty back together again.

A few points that are inaccurate in your opinion piece. Premier Klein did not “waste” the royalties we are blessed with. The Natural Gas royalty bonanza paid off the debt and left us with $17 Billion in the “sustainability fund”. The last 10 ten years of PC governments did waste this money. They bought every government union vote with massive inflationary wage increase. Paid some unions retirement dues (think $2 Billion paid for the teachers portion of the $5 Billion owed to their pension fund). Now we have a government that thinks money grows on tree’s. We are nowhere close to balancing the books (without massive spending cuts) for at least 20 years. Premier Klein left us an opportunity to enjoy a high level lifestyle and we blew it. We made it worse 2 years ago. Now our grandchildren will be left to clean up the mess WHILE living with a decreased standard of living.

I actually thought the press conference with ceos was a very astute move. I was going to vote NDP until this moment and this press conference changed my mind.

Would’ve been nice if the Premier took Labour reform more seriously. Alberta’s still work 44 hrs a week before overtime unlike the rest of the country.

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