Alberta didn’t change – but its image will

alberta plate

The defeat of the PCs seemed unthinkable a few months ago. The notion they could lose to the NDP would have been laughable. But this is how politics in Alberta works. Every 30 or 40 years, a Chinook blows over the mountain and sweeps in a new government who has never before held power. So after a wild couple of years, we can probably all ignore Alberta politics until the middle of the Century (when Stephen Harper’s granddaughter runs for Premier).

Even though the polls foretold an NDP win, Albertans have rightly grown cynical of the polls, so there were still plenty of surprised faces on all sides of the spectrum tonight. Outside Alberta, it won’t just be surprise tomorrow, but consternation over how Alberta could turn orange. With the NDP floundering in Manitoba, it seems likely Alberta will be Canada’s lone socialist province this time next year. The province will stand out like an old man in an orange speedo at a formal ball.

Alberta is used to standing out, but for different reasons. For years, the province cultivated and cherished its reputation as the bad boy of confederation. There were the “Let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark!” bumper stickers. Ann Coulter called the province “the good Canadians”. It likely didn’t help that Ralph Klein was the face of Alberta for a decade.

The thing is, that bad boy reputation was always more bluster than reality. Everyone noticed when Calgarians elected a Harvard-educated Muslim as Mayor in 2010 – all the more, because those latte sipping pinkos in Toronto elected Rob Ford a week earlier. Three years later, Edmontonians elected 34-year Don Iveson – Canada’s first openly nerd mayor.

But Edmonton has always been dubbed “Redmonton” for its political leanings, and Nenshi is only the latest in a string of Liberal mayors from Calgary. If you look at the results from the last few provincial elections, you’ll quickly realize Alberta hasn’t been a Conservative monolith since before Calgary hosted the Olympics.

alberta vote

Yes, progressives flocked to the PCs last election, but only because Alison Redford looked and sounded like a progressive. In every other election from the past 30 years, over a third of Albertans have voted for parties on the left.

But that’s always been a more complicated story to tell than the caricature of crazy conservative Alberta which, admittedly, some of our politicians (*cough*Rob Anders*cough*) did not help to dispel.

Similarly, many will simplify the story of tonight to Albertans swinging wildly to the left. While it’s true the province has changed, those changes have been gradual. What really happened in 2015 was Rachel Notley looking like a safe option for change, at a time when voters wanted change. The fact that Notley made Thomas Mulcair feel as welcome in Alberta as a rat (or worse, a Canucks fan) in the dying days of this campaign tells you all you need to know about the strength of the NDP brand. So don’t expect “howdy” to be replaced with “welcome comrade” the next time you land in Calgary.

No, Alberta hasn’t changed. But the perception of Alberta will. Rachel Notley, Naheed Nenshi, and Don Iveson are now the face of the province. The myth of Alberta as a conservative wasteland is dead.

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8 responses to “Alberta didn’t change – but its image will”

  1. As someone with family living there, I think many overestimated how Conservative the province was. As shown in the graph above, still more Albertans voted parties on the right than left but for the last 20 years its never been an overwhelming majority. All that changed is the right was badly divided while the left coalesced around one party. While I agree an NDP win is shocking in many ways, the idea of Alberta being a Texas of the North is really out of date. I’ve always said its more of a Colorado of the North which BTW voted for Obama both times. That being said the NDP has to be careful not too swing too far left or they will be a one term wonder.

  2. I think trends are looking bad for people who think the federal Liberal party is going to be the voice of progressive voters.
    The NDP will be the voice of the left in French Quebec and western Canada. The Green Party is electing members at the provincial level in BC, NB and PEI.
    The Liberal reaction to the Occupy Movement was to select the poster boy for white privilege as their leader.
    The NDP will be portraying Justin Trudeau as mini-Harper. They have the same views on limiting the size of government, the oil sands, the gun registry, Bill C-51.
    The Alberta NDP government can’t destroy the economy before the next federal election. The political obituaries for Tom Mulcair may have been written too early.

  3. Rachel Notley said Tom Mulcair was a great national leader and she has lot of respect for him today. All she said was she hadnn’t talk to Tom in months, which is no big deal they’re both very busy people.

    • If Notley thought Mulcair was an asset in Alberta, he would have been there during the election, the way he was in other provincial elections (and by-elections).

  4. It’s kind of silly to include the 1993 Liberal in the “progressive” column. They ran to the right of the PCs with their debt clock and opposition to abortion. The Alberta Liberals were never really progressive until Taft became the leader.

    Also, I’m sure most of the remaining PC voters are federal Liberal supporters. The Prentice budget could have just as easily been written by Paul Martin or Kathleen Wynne.

  5. People see that it is the Progressive Conservative party and assume it is a right wing party ( I know I did when I moved to Alberta from Manitoba)however it is not. If this was any other province they would call PCA the Liberals. This is why when the wheels on the PC machine fell off the logical choice for most was the NDP rather than Wild Rose ( which is very much the provincial version of the federal conservatives). Should PCA wither and die this will likely result in a resurrection of the Provincial Liberal party in Alberta rather than a strengthening of the Wild Rose. This was also the fatal flaw in the unite the right movement as the majority of those who camped with PCA did not view themselves as part of that.

  6. The myth of Alberta as a conservative wasteland is dead.

    Much more importantly, this also signifies the death of the myth that the NDP can never win a federal election. You’ve seen that graphic circulating on social media? “They said we couldn’t win Quebec. We did it. We couldn’t form government in AB? Done. They say we can’t win Federal Election. Bring it on.”

    They’re right.

    And that is bad, terribly bad, CATASTROPHIC news for the federal Liberal party.

    Every single voter in this country who has ever wanted to vote NDP but held their nose and voted Liberal — and there are a LOT of them — no longer has to see the Liberals as the only ‘realistic’ option to block the Conservatives. Quite the opposite; French citizen Mulcair can now turn that argument on its head, presenting *himself* as the only viable alternative to Harper. And he will. With significant success.

    Interesting times ahead. 🙁

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