So this happened last night…
Hell froze over. Pigs flew. The world ended.
Forty-four years of Progressive Conservative rule in Alberta came to an end.
It all began so innocently. Premier (soon to be former premier) Jim Prentice put forth a budget. That budget prescribed tax increases, public sector layoffs and a $5 billion deficit.
Jimbo thought it was a good time to go to the polls – a time to get a ‘mandate’ from the people.
It sounded like a good idea. Democratic, really.
Two hundred and thirty-three days after he became Premier, he then stood in front of a half-empty room resigning not only as leader of his party, but as an MLA.
So what happened?
Well, some people have all the luck.
First: timing. Since 2011, and with the election of Rachel Notley’s NDP, Albertans will have had five premiers in the span of four years. Alberta is usually heralded as a bastion of political stability, but it became rather apparently over the past couple of years that something was rotten within the PC party, and Notley managed to ride the wave of voter discontent.
Second: a strong campaign. Time and again we have seen seemingly vulnerable governments manage to come back from the brink of political death and somehow win majorities (see Alison Redford’s 2012 election victory). This is usually due to a meltdown by the party threatening to take power. Rachel Notley and the NDP managed to take the momentum built by the leaders’ debate and not only maintain it, but build it. This was quite the feat given the inexperience of many of her party’s candidates and her political team.
Third: a weakened Wildrose party. One of the questions that hasn’t been asked is why Albertans didn’t flock to the Wildrose party. Given the decades of conservative rule, the Wildrose would seem like a more palatable alternative to Albertans than the NDP. But a few months ago, a number of prominent Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to sit with Prentice’s PCs, leaving the party to have to search for a new leader. Brian Jean only assumed the leadership of the Wildrose Party at the end of March, leaving him with little time to introduce himself to Alberta voters. Also, the floor crossing no doubt left some voters wondering if a vote for the Wildrose was a vote for the PCs anyway given the seeming fluidity between their caucuses lately.
Fourth: fatigue. Sometimes enough is enough and it’s time for new blood.
The bigger question, though, is what impact does this have, if any, on the upcoming federal election?
At this point, who knows.
Results of the 2015 Alberta provincial election. Results of the 2011 Canadian federal election.
Currently, the federal Conservative Party holds all seats in Alberta save for one NDP seat in Edmonton. The federal boundary ridings in Alberta have been redrawn for the upcoming federal election, and more than 50% of the seats will be in urban areas. The NDP’s complete domination of Edmonton and surge in Calgary mean that it’s within the realm of possibility for the NDP to pick up a few more seats in urban areas, but many of those same seats are held by Conservative Party veterans, including cabinet ministers. It may be difficult for the NDP to get past the notoriety factor of many of the Conservative MPs in Edmonton and Calgary.
However, you can bet that the Conservatives will spend a lot more time in Alberta over the next few months ensuring that their stronghold is secure.
Finally, two other election-related issues of note:
1. Voter turnout in this election was the highest it’s been in Alberta since 1993 at a whopping 57%. Remember, though, that this is Alberta, and 57% is a good number for that province. They’re relearning democracy out there.
2. Of the 53 NDP MLAs elected last night, 45% are women. This is a record for any Canadian government, federal or provincial. Unfortunately, though, women will still only comprise 33% of the provincial legislature. Of the 31 PC and Wildrose candidates elected, only four are women – two from each party. While progress was made on this front last night, there is more work to be done.