Alberta election shows up B.C. smugness

As luck would have it I found myself in Alberta Tuesday: Provincial Election Day. That evening I joined friends around a laptop perched on a table at a pub in the Banff Springs Hotel as we watched the results roll in.

There was a B.C. connection to all of this. Back in the days of the Harcourt government here, Rachel Notley was a young lawyer — daughter of Alberta former NDP leader Grant Notley — out here working with B.C.’s former Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh.

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More interesting than that, a few months ago Rachel Notley, who had since entered electoral politics and was now the leader of Alberta’s NDP, recruited veteran B.C. NDP organizer Gerry Scott to come out to Alberta and whip her party bureaucracy into shape.

They were thinking a provincial election was more than a year away. With the unexpected quick call, Scott became the campaign manager with a formidable task.

There were the polls of course, predicting an NDP sweep. But who believes polls anymore? There was last the provincial election in B.C. where the pollsters got it wrong. They were also off base in Alberta telling us the Wild Rose Party would bounce the ruling Tories last time out.

But I have got to tell you, the results that came in during the first few minutes Tuesday night looked like the Tories were coming back. As Scott told me a few days later, he had flashes of B.C.’s last provincial election. “This was not the trend we were looking for.”

Then it shifted — radically. And nothing could divert our attention; not the spectacular view out the window of Bow River Valley and the rugged snow covered Rockies; not the game — the Calgary Flames battling the Anaheim Ducks.  

The Flames and the Ducks were most on the minds of the crowd glued to their large screen TVs in the lounge at the other end of the hall. But I did note that between periods even those die-hard fans in their hockey sweaters flipped the channel to the election results.

In fact, it was hard to tell, when we heard cheers going up from that direction, whether it was a goal being scored or more evidence of the ruling Progressive Conservative Party being mowed down by the explosive support for the NDP.
It was truly a moment in Canadian political history.

British Columbians had seen nothing like it since 1972 when Dave Barrett’s New Democrats tossed out W.A.C. Bennett’s Social Credit Party after 20 years of continuous power.

But this was even more dramatic. Right wing governments had controlled Alberta for 80 years, since 1935 beginning with Social Credit. For the past 44 years it was the Tory dynasty starting with Peter Lougheed.

When Barrett won, his party moved from Opposition to Government. When Rachel Notley and the NDP entered the race in Alberta, they were the fourth party, out-numbered by the Opposition Wild Rose and the provincial Liberals.

Most observers agree that if there was a turning point in this campaign, it happened during the televised debate. Although many Albertans were tiring of Premier Jim Prentice and truly annoyed by his observation, made before the writ was dropped, that if they wanted to know why Alberta was facing such economic difficulty they should just “look in the mirror.”

But it was during the TV debate when Prentice turned to Notley and made the condescending remark, “I know that math is difficult” that was seen as a final nail in his coffin.

But as Gerry Scott and others have pointed out, Alberta is a province that has been changing. Particularly the cities.

Longtime Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote “you want two words for this epic upheaval? Rachel Notley. You want two more? Naheed Nenshi.” He’s the hip Harvard educated South Asian mayor of Calgary who was elected at the same time Toronto ended up with Rob Ford.

British Columbians have been chronically smug about redneck Alberta. No more.

Just look at the election results. As the Globe and Mail reported, the NDP elected a record number of women. There are three openly gay MLAs and the average age of the provincial MLA has dropped from 53 to 36, which just happens to be the average age in the province.

Now let’s see what they can do.

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