Something that can only be described as monumental, unprecedented, and incredible is happening right now in the greater Pacific Northwest: The New Democratic Party, the most progressive of Canada’s major political parties, is riding to a massive, historic victory in Alberta, often described as the country’s most conservative province.
Canadian news networks are projecting that the NDP, under charismatic Leader Rachel Notley of Edmonton, will form government for the first time ever.
And it will be a majority government, to boot.
As of 8:05 Pacific Time (9:05 PM Mountain Time), the CBC tally showed that the NDP was leading for 56 seats, while the Wildrose Party (one of two major right wing parties in the province) was leading for twenty seats. The incumbent Progressive Conservatives (the other major right wing party… and yes, that’s actually what they call themselves) lead for only nine seats.
The numbers continue to shift as returns come in, but it’s definitely safe to say that the NDP has broken through and won a victory of unprecedented proportions. Alberta is like the Texas of Canada; as NPI President Robert Cruickshank says, “The NDP winning in Alberta is like Elizabeth Warren getting elected governor of Texas — with a Democratic majority in the Legislature.”
“It is an orange wave,” declared a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation anchor, noting that the incumbent Progressive Conservatives might not even form Her Majesty’s opposition. They trail the Wildrose Party by nearly a dozen seats.
The Globe and Mail, Canada’s newspaper of record, called it “a sign of a seismic shift in politics in Canada’s most small‑c conservative province”.
The NDP was able to do it in part by capitalizing on voter dissatisfaction with the Progressive Conservatives, who have ruled Alberta for four decades.
Years of corruption and mismanagement left voters yearning for change, and the NDP offered a positive, progressive vision for the province (including a platform that calls for raising taxes on the wealthy) that resonated with voters.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley made history by running a compelling and error-free campaign that was able to deftly overcome the attacks and the scare tactics of the Progressive Conservatives and their disgraced leader Jim Prentice.
NDP challengers were able to oust Progressive Conservative incumbents in a large number of battleground ridings, particularly in the Calgary area. (Calgary is Alberta’s largest city; a riding is the Canadian equivalent of a district.)
Notley and Prentice have yet to speak, but when they do, we’ll update this post.
8:41 PM UPDATE: The current numbers:
- New Democratic Party: 54 seats (will form government)
- Wildrose Party: 21 seats (will form opposition)
- Progressive Conservatives: 10 seats
- Liberal Party: 1 seat
- Alberta Party: 1 seat
The NDP has hovered above fifty seats in the tally for over an hour. Forty-four seats are needed to form a majority government. The NDP has that and then some.
8:50 PM: The Canadian Press has a nice article which puts the election in context. Here’s an excerpt which talks about the election from Notley’s point of view:
For Notley, the victory is a vindication of the pioneering efforts of her father, Grant Notley. He helped found Alberta’s NDP and kept the movement alive as the sole NDP member of the legislature in the 1970s. He died in a plane crash in northern Alberta in 1984, two years before his party made its first big breakthrough in 1986 and became official Opposition.
The NDP has never come close to power in Alberta since it began contesting votes in 1940. Its previous high-water mark was 16 seats and almost 30 per cent of the popular vote in 1986.
Notley ran on a policy platform of social change, promising to invest more in schools and hospitals, while increasing taxes to corporations and the wealthy.
9:05 PM: Progressive Conservative Leader Jim Prentice has delivered his concession speech in Calgary. Prentice announced that he has resigned, effective immediately, as the party’s leader.
“While I am personally saddened by the decision, the voters are always right in our democracy,” Prentice said, looking both sad and grim, but maintaining his composure. He said that he had spoken to Rachel Notley of the NDP and congratulated her, as well as Brian Jean of the Wildrose.
“As the leader of the party, I accept responsibility for tonight’s outcome,” he said. He thanked his party’s supporters for their hard work, adding “Clearly, however, my contribution to public life is now at an end.”
He also announced that he is resigning from the Alberta Legislative Assembly seat that he was just elected to, which means there will be a by-election in his riding not long from now. (A by-election is the Canadian term for a special election).
CBC commentator Stephen Carter described the defeated Progressive Conservatives as a rudderless, collapsed party with no future. That may sound like a harsh characterization, but without power to hold them together, can the party survive? They’ve been beaten tonight not only by the NDP in terms of ridings won, but also the Wildrose Party — though they did manage to beat the Wildrose in terms of the overall share of the vote (28% to 24.7%).
9:21 PM: Here’s a map of the current results, courtesy of Daily Kos Elections.
9:26 PM: The CBC just carried Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean’s speech.
“Wow, what an incredible election. What a change in Alberta,” he began. “It’s very, very unbelievable. It was just a few months ago that pundits said that the Wildrose Party was dead… Wildrose proved them wrong.”
“Do you know why? The Wildrose Party is not about one person. It’s not about one MLA. It’s about all Alberta. We are a movement.”
“My goodness gracious, we’re the official opposition. We’ve got like twenty seats!” he exclaimed later, marveling at his party’s electoral performance.
“Thirty-seven days, and we have prospered, mightily. We have done amazing things,” Jean declared to cheers and applause. He went on to criticize the Progressive Conservatives, saying they had reaped what they had sown.
“I would like to congratulate Rachel Notley. She ran a very good campaign.”
“It is an NDP majority government. We will work to keep them on their toes.”
9:37 PM: Rachel Notley is making her way towards the stage at the NDP party in Edmonton to deliver her victory speech as premier-designate.
Supporters are loudly chanting “NDP! NDP! NDP!” as Rachel waves to the crowd.
9:56 PM: Wow, what a speech! Some of the highlights:
“Well, my friends.… I think we might have made a little bit of history tonight. Change has finally come to Alberta. New people, new ideas, and a fresh start for our great province,” she began. “Now, you know, Albertans are a gracious people, and tonight, I want to be gracious. I’ve just spoken to Premier Jim Prentice. He’s served our province in many roles, for many years… and I want to thank the Premier for the enormous contribution he has made to our province.”
“I’ve also just spoken to Brian Jean, leader of the Wildrose Party. Brian, I want to say: Through your courage in the face of family tragedy, you have earned the respect of every Albertan, and I’m looking forward to working with you.”
“And let me say to our amazing campaign team: Thank you for your extraordinary efforts. I haven’t done the math yet,” she said, pausing as she was interrupted by wild, jubilant cheers from her supporters, “but I think we have elected the most women in the history of this province.”
“To the people of Alberta, I want to thank you for putting your trust in our party,” she said. “I’m deeply humbled, and I want to pledge to you, the people of Alberta, that we will work every day to earn your trust.”
“In this province, we’re optimistic, we’re forward-looking, we’re entrepreneurial, and we’re careful with the family budget,” she declared.
“That is the kind of government that we will work to be.”
“Together, we need to start down the road to a diversified economy,” she added, acknowledging Alberta’s addiction to oil. “We need to end the boom and bust roller coaster that we have been riding for too long.”
She said she was looking forward to working with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on projects that affected the province. Supporters booed at the mention of Harper’s name, but Notley smiled and simply reemphasized her sentiments.
“The weather is what it is, but spring has arrived,” she said.
“A new day has begun. You voted for change. For better healthcare. For better schools. And we will answer your call.”
Beaming, she concluded by remembering her mother and father, saying she was honored to continue her father’s life work. “I know how proud he would be of the province we all love,” she said. (Supporters chanted, “Grant! Grant! Grant!”)
Her final words: “Friends, my name is Rachel Notley, and I want to thank you for electing me as your next Premier!”