New Democratic Party Ends 43 Year Conservative Domination in Alberta
The victory of the new Premier-elect of Alberta Rachel Notley and the loss of the bastion province of the conservative Harper government is analyzed by Notley’s former professor Gordon Laxer of the University of Alberta
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
Ending more than four decades of Progressive Conservative domination of Alberta amounting to twelve consecutive majority governments and after 43 years in power in the Canadian oil province of Alberta, the New Democratic Party swept into power with a clear majority, electing Rachel Notley as the premier.
The NDP secured 53 of the 87 ridings. Here is Rachel Notley at her victory speech.
ALBERTA PREMIER-ELECT RACHEL NOTLEY, NDP LEADER: Friends, I believe that change has finally come to Alberta.
PERIES: With us to help unpack this election and what it means to Albertans and Canadians is Gordon Laxer. He is founding director and former head of Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
Thank you so much for joining us, Gordon.
GORDON LAXER, DIR. PARKLAND INSTITUTE, UNIV. OF ALBERTA: Very nice to be here.
PERIES: So Gordon, with a substantial majority as the NDP has elected 53 of the 87 ridings, give us a sense of what were some of the issues that swung the vote left.
LAXER: Well, people were finally getting tired of the Progressive Conservative party. They’ve run this province for 43 years. They were showing a real sense of entitlement, that they kind of owned the province, and just took it for granted, and were–there was a lot of cronyism going on.
Really, this election happened in two stages. Three years ago there was a provincial election and a new party, the Wildrose party, rose and took half the conservative base. It was a kind of Tea Party-like party that didn’t like the mainstream Progressive Conservative party. It was a bit like the Tea Party versus the more established Republican party. And so they siphoned off half the vote, and the Progressive Conservatives in the last election only won when people in the center and even the center-left move over to the Conservatives because they were so scared about Wildrose getting elected. And then as soon as the Conservatives got elected they brought in the Wildrose party-lite. So they brought in austerity, and the people who had voted, the progressive people who had swung over to the Conservatives were miffed at that.
So the progressive–the Conservatives lost votes to the right with the Wildrose, and then the left progressive party people all coalesced behind the NDP. And that hadn’t happened before, because there were several parties in the center and the left. The Liberal party, the New Democrats, the Alberta Party. But everything coalesced around Rachel Notley and the New Democrats. So with 40 percent of the vote and the right-wing votes split, they were able to win. And people, eighty percent of people said they wanted to change the government, they were really tired of the Conservatives.
And they, it was also a vote against austerity, against–it was a vote for the environment, for recognition of First Nations people, of the need for healthcare spending and education, and school lunches for kids, and that kind of thing.
PERIES: Now this is a party, the Progressive Conservative party, in a province that is the oil-producing province. A large portion of the Canadian gross national product is dependent on this province. Now, they’ve lost. Now, what does this mean in terms of the NDP’s party platform and what they were talking about in terms of the oil sands and in terms of the oil industry? The world’s gaze is on Canada right now because of this election, mainly due to the implications on oil production. How is all this going to play out in Alberta with the NDP?
LAXER: Well Alberta produces about 80 percent of the oil in Canada, and it’s especially in the tar sands, the oil sands, where production is increasing and that’s where the exports are coming from. Also natural gas. And as Alberta is the energy province, and it–Alberta in many ways and the oil industry has been running Canada. The Harper government is very, is based in Alberta. Harper himself is from Calgary in Alberta. And they elected in the last election all but one member from Alberta. So this is really an earthquake in Canadian politics.
What this is going to mean for–I just call them the sands, not even the tar sands or the oil sands. The New Democrats have to, are treading quite carefully on that. I mean, they have much more progressive policy on issues such as raising corporate taxes, having royalty review, raising taxes on the high-income people and keeping, putting money into education and healthcare. They’re much more cautious on oil policy.
So the province takes a really pathetic level of royalties. It’s nothing like Norway does. And Rachel Notley has called for a review of that, which gives her, so there will be a committee or a commission will study that, and then her government will have a chance to then decide on–she didn’t say she would raise royalties, but it gives a hint of that. And she wants to make it much more environmental. She mentioned that Alberta has a black eye in the world in terms of the environment. But I don’t see a New Democrat government phasing out the sands like I think should happen, because I don’t think the sands can be greened.
So the Premier-Elect Rachel Notley has said she will not go to Washington to push for the Keystone XL pipeline, that that is something that is an internal American decision. And so she won’t push on that. There’s also talk about a pipeline going to the West Coast in British Columbia. And she thinks that that is the gateway, Northern Gateway pipeline, that that is not going to happen because there’s so much opposition to it, and she’s not going to push on that. But she’s open to other pipelines.
So they’re treading quite cautiously on the oil issue.
PERIES: And lastly, Gordon, let’s talk about what this means in terms of the upcoming elections in Canada in terms of the federal elections, and what impact this will have on the Conservatives and the Harper Government.
LAXER: Well, because this has been the bastion of the Conservative party federally, so of Mr. Harper, this is a real blow to the Progressive Conservatives. No one thought that in their base, that they could lose it. So it’s going to give a real boost to the federal New Democrats, whose strongest base now is in Quebec.
I see this, you know, this is a victory for the 99 percent. It isn’t often that the 99 percent come out and actually defeat the 1 percent and that big oil got defeated, and that really boosts people’s morale. Young voters came out, and I think that they’re going to come out in larger numbers because they see that change can happen. And that can only help the federal New Democrats gain in popularity.
PERIES: So Gordon, I understand Rachel was one of your students. Tell us more about how she was as a student.
LAXER: Well, I met her in 1986 when she was 22 years old. She was in a class of mine, and very impressive at that point. And I’ve maintained contact with her since. She is just a natural born leader. And I am so proud of her. I worked with her dad even a few years before that, who was the sole member of the New Democrats in the legislature out of 80 members. And he was very impressive. And earned great respect. And his daughter is doing as well or even better. So I have a strong personal connection with Rachel and with her father.
PERIES: Gordon, we’ll be back to you very soon to see how all of this is going to play out once the NDP takes power. Thank you so much for joining us today.
LAXER: Great to talk to you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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