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Is This Real Life? Alberta’s NDP Party Lead Going Into Next Week’s Election

The great Progressive Conservative dynasty may finally lose the throne.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley talking to a potential voter, as politicians are wont to do in campaign season. Photo via NDP website

The daughter of the late Ralph Klein, long-serving Progressive Conservative premier, is backing the Alberta NDP in the current election. Danielle Smith, former chief of the province's far-right Wildrose Party, agreed that New Democrat leader Rachel Notley emerged as clear victor of the leaders' debate. Ezra Levant, AKA the Rebel Commander, tweeted that he'd sooner vote for the social democratic party than the reigning Progressive Conservatives.


What the Ayn Randian-fuck is going on in Alberta?

When PC Premier Jim Prentice called an early election on April 7, many assumed the party would coast to another majority, as it has on 12 consecutive occasions. Sure, the NDP have managed to establish a foothold in Edmonton in past elections, while the Liberals solidified support in Calgary's urban areas via the strong personalities of David Swann and Kent Hehr. But given the extermination of the official opposition via a now-legendary floor-crossing, most assumed the verdict was essentially preordained. The election was more of a ceremonial gesture, a token of goodwill to the concept of democracy.

"Here you have a huge majority in an 87-seat legislature, you've got a budget that's not pleasant but not outrageous, you've got a decimated opposition," explains Bruce Foster, associate professor in political science at Mount Royal University. "And you go and call an election. I think people are angry at that: not only because it doesn't make sense but angry at the PCs for just lording it over everybody else. That anger is coming through in the polls as well."

The lefties are indeed surging in the polls., a website that aggregates polling data, has averaged NDP support at 38.7 percent, with the PCs and Wildrose clocking in at 28.7 and 25.1 percent respectively. Notley—a former labour lawyer and daughter of long-time party leader Grant Notley—has miraculously managed to convince a considerable number of Albertans to abandon their posts with the PCs; almost one-third of decided Albertans who backed the ruling party in the 2012 election are throwing their support behind the NDPs.


Pollsters are adamant that such numbers don't equate to seats given the high concentration of NDP support in Edmonton, Lethbridge, and parts of urban Calgary (compared to the Wildrose Party that are focusing more on rural ridings and suburban Calgary). Dave Cournoyer, a prominent political blogger, notes that it's very difficult for a party to form majority government without appealing to both urban and rural seats, which the NDP have not. Add in the reality that the PCs possess a sturdy fundraising and get-out-and-vote machine, and caution seems perhaps advisable.

Brian Singh, president of zinc tank and founder of 1AlbertaVote, notes that there are five or six elements the NDP have to fulfill: "The expectation of a win, how the neighbours are going to vote, all the measures on trust in terms of managing the economy, leadership, education and healthcare. It's not necessarily an even playing field. There's a social condition for the PCs to say that they've been in power for so long and they're naturally the ruling party."

So perhaps Alberta's progressives are getting prematurely excited. After all, there was that infamous situation in 2012 in which the Wildrose were forecasted to win a majority and ended up scoring a mere 20 percent of seats. Yet in many respects, the election isn't about policy issues at all: Andrew Leach, energy policy professor at the University of Alberta says that "the wonk view of tax policy and how corporate tax interacts with other elements in our system just hasn't grabbed the average person." This election, as many intelligent people are noting, is more about trust than anything else.


Prentice has only been premier since October but he's certainly made the most of his time. In the worst way, that is. Bribery, ethics breaches, backdoor funding cuts, suspicious nomination race disqualifications, arrogance, pretending to care about the opinion of Albertans: that's an impressive pile of dirt in just seven months. All of this comes on the heels of Alison Redford, the Red Tory and beneficiary of the "Lake of Fire" episode in 2012, who was turfed from premiership for bizarre travel expenses and attempting to build a private penthouse on public dime.

"The narrative of the election has really become about accountability," says Cournoyer. "And I don't think this is just about Jim Prentice: this goes back to three years ago when Alison Redford and the PCs squeaked out a victory over Danielle Smith and the Wildrose. PCs were really able to play the fear card in the last election. There isn't that fear of the Wildrose anymore because most of the Wildrose Party has moved over to the PCs."

The right-of-centre crowd—the "read my lips, no new taxes" voter base—has largely evacuated to the dominion of the Wildrose; the PCs introduced close to 60 taxes and user fees in their March 26 budget, something the far-right party hasn't let anyone forget. Meanwhile, the NDP have absorbed anyone remotely concerned with diminishing investments in healthcare and education, or the potential war against public-sector workers, or the initial opposition to gay-straight alliances.


But so much of it returns to confidence. That reality is perhaps one of the last strongholds the PCs can appeal to: by asserting that the NDP will cripple the economy and the Wildrose aren't prepared to govern, the party can again claim votes with the promise of consistency. But it will likely be more difficult to pull off this time, given the presence of not one but two threats (coming from polar opposites of the spectrum to boot). It's yet to be seen if the Red Scare tactics deployed by the PCs will be effective.

"They've given people enough information to confirm their preconceived notions," Leach notes. "If you believe the NDP's going to do crazy stuff, you can find enough in what they say to confirm that notion for yourself. Whereas if you believe they're not going to be that different from what we've seen thus far, you can also find that."

It seems one of the favoured tactics of Alberta's anti-NDP crowd is comparing the possibility of a social-democratic future to that of Manitoba, the only province that's currently governed by the NDP. Leach dismisses the parallel by noting: "If Manitoba had a two-trillion oil resource in its north, then that would be a fair comparison." David Camfield, associate professor of labour studies and sociology at the University of Manitoba, adds that the province's NDP—which have governed since 1999—haven't exactly offered much of a socialist alternative, opting instead for refusing to introduce anti-scab legislation, tax cuts, and the adoption of federal crime-and-punishment legislation.

"People should vote NDP with their eyes wide open and without illusions about what the NDP today actually represents," Camfield advises. "Obviously if the NDP gets elected in Alberta they'll be under tremendous pressure from capital in the province. People should not expect that the NDP would withstand that pressure. It just points to the importance of unions and social movements in trying to resist things getting worse and trying to make positive change in an age of austerity."

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