Four short years and the dream is over for Alberta’s New Democratic Party, handed a decisive defeat last night as the ballots were counted in the provincial election. Premier Rachel Notley must be wondering what she did wrong.
When the NDP won in 2015, it put an end to more than 40 years of Conservative rule. When the Conservatives themselves had first formed government in 1971, they ousted the Social Credit party that had ruled the province since 1935. Albertans seem to like to keep a government once they elect it. So in a way the victory by the United Conservative Party in this year’s vote is somewhat surprising.
In 2015 the weight of scandal on the two conservative parties was just too heavy, and voters in what is arguably Canada’s most conservative province shocked the nation by electing a social democratic party. Such winds of change gave supporters hope the party would duplicate those results in the federal election later that year. As we all know, that didn’t happen. Canada’s Liberals, led by Prime Minister Selfie, jumped from third place to government.
I must admit I don’t follow Alberta politics that closely. However, as an outsider I didn’t see that the NDP did that bad a job governing the province. Yes, they made mistakes, but all parties do – it comes with being human. I disagree with a lot of NDP policy, but the alternative didn’t impress me either.
The United Conservative Party was created expressly as a vehicle to beat the NDP in this election. The fear was the vote would be split if there continued to be two right of centre parties, allowing the NDP to retain power. There is a certain wisdom to that thinking.
Unfortunately the merger of the parties was less than smooth. There were questions of legality that I don’t remember being satisfactorily addressed. I think the people involved didn’t think the rules applied to them.
That may be why, during the election campaign itself, it was suggested winner Jason Kenney’s team, had colluded with another candidate. Rules were allegedly broken. Kenney is now Alberta’s premier designate and it will be interesting to see how that investigation progresses. Last night though we saw that apparently not enough Albertans cared about the integrity of the election process for the claims to be an issue. Kenney’s party took more than 50 per cent of the vote – not easy to do in a multi-party system.
The Alberta NDP loss must have federal Liberal Party strategists concerned. They face an election in October, and their leader has shown less talent for governing than Rachel Notley. In 2015 it was enough that people were tired of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Vague promises, such as “the budget will balance itself,” were enough. Four years of deficit budgets, broken promises and a bunch of ethically questionable actions may have tarnished the Liberal brand somewhat. Yet no first-term majority federal government has been defeated in a Canadian federal election since 1935.
Then again, until last night, Albertan governments lasted 35 years or more without losing. Maybe change is in the air.