Alberta election shocker should have Christy Clark worried

Last week, I gathered with some friends in East Vancouver to watch the Alberta election results come in. The surprising surge in the polls by the NDP had raised expectations for progressives. Still, few people really believed that an NDP government could get elected in what is commonly referred to as the most conservative province in Canada.

The early vote tallies seemed to drive home our suspicion that the polls numbers were too good to be true. 20 minutes after the polls closed and with the numbers starting to come in, the NDP was a distant third, trailing both the Wildrose Party and the governing Progressive Conservatives under new Premier Jim Prentice, who were trying to hang on to a 44-year-old dynasty. It was beginning to feel like a repeat of the 2013 election in B.C., where polls were predicting an NDP win. That miserable election night from two years ago had conditioned those of us on the left of the political spectrum not to get our hopes up.

Rachel Notley, new Premier-elect of Alberta. | Photo by Dave Cournoyer

Rachel Notley, new Premier-elect of Alberta. | Photo by Dave Cournoyer

But then, the numbers started to change. The NDP crept ahead in the seat count. Then they sprinted to a huge lead. Within an hour, all the major networks covering the election had called it: the NDP had won a majority government. In Alberta. The results were almost unbelievable. Although the CCF, the radical left predecessor to the NDP, was founded at a convention in Calgary way back in 1932, the left has barely had an electoral presence in the province historically.

As I have written in this space before, the stars in Alberta were uniquely aligned to facilitate an NDP breakthrough, given a divided right-wing and a sudden $5 billion deficit. The party also benefited from a well spoken and popular leader, Rachel Notley, whose father Grant had been the party leader in the 1980s. He died in a plane crash just prior to the previous high water mark of the NDP in the provincial legislature.

But this Alberta election result is still absolutely stunning, and a reason for hope. Over 40 per cent of Albertans voted for an NDP platform that included a raise in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, an end to corporate or union financing of election campaigns and a pledge to renew relationships with Indigenous peoples on the basis of respect and understanding.

The other significant factor in the Alberta vote was that it revealed the weakening influence of endorsements from the mainstream, corporate-owned media. In the final week of the campaign, all the major daily newspapers in the province came out in support of Prentice and the Conservatives. They all conceded the government had been pretty bad, but that the NDP was not a credible alternative. Essentially, the owners of the big media told voters they had no choice but stick with Conservatives.

The electorate completely ignored this condescending advice from the corporate media CEOs.

E_p4_left_bank_2We are now in uncharted territory in Canadian politics. If the NDP can win in Alberta then, presumably, they can win anywhere. No doubt the Alberta election results are keeping Stephen Harper up at night, and they must also be of concern to Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals.

Premier Clark should be worried. For three straight elections, the B.C. Liberals have pulled off relatively narrow victories against an NDP opposition. Right-wing media outlets always endorse the Liberals in the final days of the campaign, helping keep the Liberals in power. No matter the level of corruption or callousness of the government in Victoria, they always seem to eke out a win based largely on the fear that is whipped up about the potential of an NDP government.

The west coast used to be known as the left coast. Now we just aspire to catch up to Alberta. If the status quo in Alberta can be turned upside down, then it is only a matter of time until we at last change the status quo here in B.C.

One thought on “Alberta election shocker should have Christy Clark worried

  1. The power now concentrated in the oil empire and the neoliberal right wing in Canada gives one cause to pause. I remember what Bay Street and the likes of Conrad Black did to Bob Rae 30+/- years ago and as much as I am loathe to dump caution on this lovely transformation, I would like Rachel Notley to be very watchful: Nothing is beneath Harper and sycophants if it means losing an atom of power. As that great sage Gerry Caplan said, “Beware the coup!”

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