The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Alberta Elects the New Democratic Party (NDP)

This is fairly extraordinary: For non-Canadians, the NDP is the most left-wing party in Canada and Alberta is the most right-wing province in Canada. It’d be like an Elizabeth Warren-inspired party winning Texas. (As a Canadian let me say that this is amazing and almost unthinkable even a few years ago.)

Following were NDP’s key promises:

  • An increase in the corporate tax rate from ten to twelve percent;
  • A $15/hr minimum wage;
  • A review of the royalties that petrocarbon producers pay (which have plummeted in recent years);
  • A ban on corporate donations for elections;
  • A phase out of coal power.

Alberta is the heart of the modern conservative revolution in Canada and was the fastest growing economy during the last fifteen years, thanks to massive increases in oil prices. Alberta also saw a rise in immigration from other parts of Canada, which I suspect had played a huge part in this surprise vote.

I am more interested in whether this means Alberta might be in play during a federal election, however. Traditionally, Alberta has gone right-wing in super majorities, federally. If it’s willing to vote NDP at the national election (which, so far, polls don’t show), the next election may be far more interesting than this one.

Canadian elections can be volatile; there have been a lot of upsets recently and the polls have gotten it wrong repeatedly. Federally, the Liberal Party seems most likely to win, but it’s leader, Justin Trudeau, has been caught flat-footed a number of times, tending to support the same policies as the Conservative Party.

I’m hoping, and now have slightly more hope, that the NDP wins instead.

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Conservatives Appear to Have Won in the UK: What the Left Should Do


  1. The Tragically Flip

    Largely this is about Alberta’s absolute rejection of the Liberal party brand still over Trudeau’s NEP from the early 1980s. They just can’t bring themselves to vote Liberal, even the barely related provincial wing, while meanwhile the NDP have their CCP prarie roots, and aren’t seen as a party of Eastern Canada, which is why the NDP are the default centre-left party of all 4 western provinces.

    I don’t see an Orange wave taking most Alberta federal seats but certainly this election shows a new openness to voting NDP so if Mulcair can turn a good campaign, we should see the NDP take a few more seats and maybe 1 or 2 not in Edmonton. Still, Mulcair is an Easterner – from Quebec and a former Liberal to boot, plus the CPC convinced a lot of people his Dutch Disease remarks were some kind of kooky bizarre theory rather than the blatantly obvious diagnosis of Canada’s troubles.

    The other factor is the lack of a particular antipathy or scandal driving Albertans from the federal conservatives at the moment.

    But no matter what, this is good news. The NDP taking 5 or 7 Alberta seats would be good, as it cuts into the Consevative seat count and helps keep them in minority status, keeping open the door for some kind of NDP/Liberal deal to govern. The more seats the NDP have relative to the Liberals, the more they can demand from any coalition deal.

  2. BemusedLurker

    Best result is to take the “Safe” out of the conservative base…

    No longer does Harper have the provincial government covering his backside. Hopefully he has developed a thorn infestation in Alberta. Can you imagine 50 extra speeches on home turf NOT in support of the CRAP (Conservative Reform Alliance Party for those who forget).

    BL (And Prentice flips the bird to all those who worked so hard to get him his seat – nice to show the appreciation. Its what happens when the self-proclaimed king doesn’t get anointed)

  3. The Tragically Flip

    I recall the 1990 Ontario provincial election, and in that case my sense was that voters were simulaneously furious with the provincial David Peterson Liberals and the Federal (Mulroney era) conservatives, and turned to Rae’s NDP out of exasperation with the two mainline brands. It wasn’t so much an Orange Wave as a “we hate those other guys more.”

    Some of that may explain Alberta, though I’m less sure why they didn’t finally turn to the Wildrose (though glad they didn’t). I guess the hijinx of the party’s own frigging leader defecting tarnished them as a viable alternative?

    Anyway, Rae blew the NDP’s chance in Ontario – didn’t do what was needed to establish the NDP as a popular left of centre alternative and got trounced in ’95. Some of that was the recession’s fault, but certainly not all. Hope lessons are learned from it. It helps that the economy was already doing poorly so the NDP shouldn’t get blamed for it all the way I think Rae’s crew were (IIRC, the economy went sour in 1991-2).

  4. AnonyMouse

    Bemused Lurker – Harper and his team caused the problem with their support of the Wild Rose. Reap what you sow.

    The fascinating thing here is the inbred group with ties to Jim Hawkes is pretty much all gone now Provincially and the Dippers will provide something that is new and needed. We Albertans seem to want another Lougheed – and Lougheed was not over rated. The prairies have always had a history of competent and principled leadership – maybe you disagreed with Aberhart or Manning but you never felt they would sell you down the river. Lougheed stood up against Trudeau, Mannix and big oil. But then we have had Petrasuk and Klein and the guys in Saskatchewan who went to jail……..

    The Wild Rose self destructed with the backroom deal between Smith and Prentice. If Smith would have stuck to her guns and kept trying it would have been a fight between her and Notley. Smith might have even been Premier. Lots of losers in this whole affair and good riddance.

    Good luck to the NDP. I’m sure there will be ups and downs but I hope they are at least competent.

  5. AnonyMouse

    Ian – some structural musings about Alberta and lessons.

    The Liberals here are a mess – were not even able to run a full slate of candidates. Give the NDP with their union support and the Wild Rose with their Evangelicals but at least they are able to run candidates in every riding.

    The Wild Rose are cut from the cloth of “all problems can be solved by cutting taxes.” This has been wearing thin and is getting old. We Albertan’s are not really trend or thought leaders but this whole “government bad” bit is losing validity even here. We are in the midst of a major recession caused by a reduction in oil prices (gas prices have been in the tank for the past couple of years and I mean AECO hub not the stuff you put in your car) and cutting all government spending and firing government workers (they can hang out at Starbucks with all the unemployed oil patch people) is about the dumbest thing one could do right now. Funny how individuals who were all for cutting government spending once cut themselves see the reality of Keynesian stimulus. (I say this from personal experience with friends and neighbors. Getting retired / downsized / fired /run off tends to add compassion to ones views.)

    So the Wild Rose message is the wrong message for the wrong time. Now fear mongering is alive and well this morning but the reality is if wells are not drilled and oil sands plants cancelled it has nothing to do with royalties but companies like Cenovus and Suncor posting massive losses for Q1.

    One other thing that is highly annoying to me is the whole environmental and pipeline issue. Alberta needs the pipelines. Plain and simple. However, it is the federal governments responsibility to negotiate with the US, not individual provinces. If Notley decides not to spend money lobbying she is likely saving tax payer dollars as it is wasted. Personally, I would like to see Harper make his unbridled support for the war on terror linked to Keystone. No pipe and the US can go fight their own wars. But hey, lets have the jurisdiction that is not responsible do the lobbying. Seems pretty convenient for Harper to have had the Alberta government share in the pipeline failure.

  6. Sukh Hayre

    We need to keep in mind that the two right-of-centre parties still got over 50% of the vote and it was the split in the vote that got the NDP their win. In a federal election, the left of centre vote is likely to be split, while the right of centre vote will go solely to the Conservatives.

  7. Pelham

    I see your point. Still, the NDP platform sounds pretty tepid for a left-wing party.

    You’d think the screamingly top priority for any left-wing party in that part of the world would be shutting down the tar sands extraction.

  8. You’d think the screamingly top priority for any left-wing party in that part of the world would be shutting down the tar sands extraction.

    Why would you imagine that? If they made that the center of their campaign, they’d never have gotten as far as they did. Canada is a resource-extraction country, and Alberta is its resource-extraction heart — you can’t be categorically against the extraction of a major resource and expect to win in Alberta. An economically left-wing mainstream party in Alberta is going to be about redistribution of the (literal) spoils, first and foremost.

  9. jump

    What is this nonsense? The electorate disobeyed us? Did not listen to our threats.
    Well, we tried the dumb-ing down thing by eviscerating education since the sixties upityness. Now it is all out war on voting. We can not tolerate uncontrolled voting. It is only a placebo anyway. What happened? And what is the next control?
    And we need to sabotage this commie government every chance money can buy. It cannot succeed! This subordination will not be tolerated.

  10. Have you looked at the price of oil?

  11. Ian Welsh

    Tories stayed in control in Alberta during the 80s crash.

  12. Declan

    The main thing for the NDP will be to stick to their guns and do as they have promised.

    Bob Rae and the Ontario NDP were the fall guys (along with the PC party federally in power at the time which basically disappeared) for the very nasty downturn in Ontario in the early 1990’s, but the downturn didn’t stop them from putting auto insurance under public control (as in BC). This was such a key plank in Rae’s platform that I recall during the campaign, the NDP lawn signs came in pairs, one touting the party and one touting the end to auto insurance ripoffs.

    All of the NDP’s five planks you list above make sense and are relatively straightforward to implement (coal phaseout and royalty changes probably the two trickiest areas to navigate).

  13. Pelham


    I see your point as well. And, of course, you’re correct.

    I think where we differ is that I’d say that any party or anyone who doesn’t oppose the tar sand operation in Alberta can’t — by definition — be very left-wing. But then, I’m buying into the idea expressed by some environmentalists that continued extraction basically means “game over” for global climate.

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