So, in talking about the Premier-Elect’s victory, I don’t mean to take anything away from her. However, there are a couple of things that should be noted. Consequently, I thought I would take a few moments. For me, this political event reminds me that I know a lot about Alberta, while subsequently illuminating my political naivety or ignorance.
When I first came to this province in 2007, I had a conversation which still haunts me. The person with whom I was talking was a long-time resident of this province. She was born in Alberta and she will likely die here. When asked why provincial Liberals were ignored by Albertans, she noted that the reason was simple: Alberta Liberals were never a viable “option”; and it didn’t take long for me to see why. Over time, I observed that Alberta Liberals didn’t have a pension for explaining their alternative vision. They were able to describe what they disliked, detested or hated about a particular Progressive Conservative Government; but Alberta Liberals were not able to define what they wanted to replace the Progressive Conservative Government with.
However, the New Democratic Party did not have such a problem. Even with one MLA, they were able to fully describe what they wanted. They might have been mocked or laughed at but they knew where they wanted to be.
Consequently, when this election came, they knew what they stood for. Additionally, unlike the Wildrose (who had just gotten a new leader) and the Liberals (who still have an interim leader), the NDP ran a leadership race in 2014 ensuring that Ms. Notley could describe herself as an alternative who was stable, experienced and a proven alternative.
It is true that people didn’t look to her immediately. People didn’t look to her when Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor. Nor did they look to her when the price of oil fell, the Prentice Budget was dropped and taxes were going to be raised. However, when the Prentice Government/Campaign started screwing up, people did look to her. When people wanted change because the government was old, they asked themselves one question: “Could Rachel be the one?”. When Mr. Prentice said things like “look in the mirror” or “math is difficult”, Ms. Notley showed her mettle and earned Albertans’ trust.
This is important to understand. For, as Liberals, we forget that we lost that trust years ago. Albertans used to trust us. We were a viable party in this province – federally and provincially – for many years. We formed the first “Alberta Dynasty” governing from 1905 to 1921. While, in 1921, we lost Government, we were still a force. Well, that was until two decisions, by different, Federal Liberal Government’s changed that reality. In reading the book “Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths”, I learned of Alberta’s bankruptcy during the 1930s, and we all know about the anger caused by the National Energy Program. The NEP is so memorable that, to this day, Mayor Klein’s choice words – “Let them freeze in the dark” – still reverberates through Alberta’s popular cultural. Those two political sins poisoned a generation of Albertans against any Liberal Government. Or, to put it differently, those who were born after the 1930s had two reasons to not trust a Liberal – provincial or federal.
This is not to say that the Alberta NDP doesn’t suffer from the wrongs of others. New Democratic Governments in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and BC also had ripple effects in Alberta. Since, at present, the BC Liberals and the conservative Saskatchewan Party hold the seat of government in their respective provinces and, consequently, insolate Alberta from NDP influence; Rachel Notley found herself in a fortunate situation. For the Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives had no one to blame. They couldn’t blame the Federal Government because they didn’t want to blame their federal cousins. Nor could the Alberta PCs blame the Federal Liberals because any animosity held against them – over the Sponsorship Scandal, the Gun Registry, Kyoto or any other issue – was washed away in the victory of the Federal Conservative Party. Consequently, Ms. Notley’s passion was matched with political and historical luck. So the capable, charismatic and intelligent Rachel Notley was able to take advantage of a crippled opposition and historical fate and gain the large swing of just under 30%, to gain government.
So I have to congratulate my friend, Susan Wright, for seeing this trend because I didn’t. While I understood that Alberta was not any more conservative than the rest of the country, I didn’t understand the factors that would cause my adopted province to change so quickly. I thought it would require massive amounts of argument and persuasion. I thought it would require five years of constant argument from a qualified leader of the opposition or some other great force, when all it took was a leader who had a vision and could communicate it. It took a leader who was strong enough to say what they felt and do it. This is something that the Alberta Party and the Alberta Liberal Party could learn.