Alberta: not as conservative as you think

Many times the Progressive Conservative party in Alberta resembled a zombie; every time you think it’s dead, it rises from the grave and continues walk about aimlessly while it rots from the inside.

Many analysts thought the PCs were finished in the 2008 election but Conservative leader Ed Stelmech won a whopping majority. The same thing happened three years ago in the election of 2012 when Alison Redford won a majority government. Every time you think the Alberta Tories are finished, they make a stunning comeback.

But not this time.

Rachel Notley’s NDP won a 53-seat majority on Tuesday’s vote. How could the most left-wing party in the country win in Canada’s conservative heartland?

Conservative parties have dominated Alberta’s politics since the 1930s. William Aberhart’s conservative Social Credit Party won the 1935 provincial election, beginning a 36-year dynasty in Alberta’s politics. Social Credit was eventually defeated in 1971 by the upstart Progressive Conservatives, who have controlled the province for 44 years.

But many people have forgotten Alberta’s rich progressive history.

From 1905 to 1921 the Liberals dominated Alberta’s government. In 1921 the United Farmers of Alberta rode a wave of Prairie Populism and governed the province until 1935. They improved medical care, enacted stronger labour laws, and implemented a fairer tax system. They also built agricultural colleges, incorporated a farmer-run cooperative, and a government hail insurance plan. They even gave women the right to vote.

But make no mistake about it. The Alberta NDP isn’t the same party you will find in Saskatchewan, BC or Ontario. There is a good chance the Alberta NDP will govern in a much more conservative manner than other New Democratic governments have across Canada. Premier Notley will do her best to assure the oil industry Alberta is not the ‘new Venezuela’. In fact, she has already spoken to business leaders assuring them the province is open for business.

Those are just a few things they have to do to ensure they don’t become a one-term wonder like Bob Rae’s ill-fated provincial government in Ontario in the early 1990s. Like Notley, his party unexpectedly won a majority government against the ruling Liberals, who had also called an early election. The recession in the early 1990s hit Ontario’s economy hard and Rae shouldered most of the blame. If oil prices don’t recover in the next few years, Albertans may unfairly blame Notley for their woes.

The last thing the Alberta NDP wants to be is an interim government before they swing back to another right-leaning party like Wildrose for another generation.

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