A NEW ERA BEGINS by Alvin Finkel

Congratulations Premier-elect Rachel Notley!!! And to all the members of her majority NDP caucus, who include many fine individuals from whom the new premier can cobble together the most progressive Cabinet that Alberta has experienced to date. Congratulations also to acting Liberal leader David Swann and Alberta Party leader Greg Clark who won hard-fought battles for their own seats; you also will have input, we trust, from a progressive perspective, on the policies followed by the Notley government over the next four years.

And who won tonight? How about 16,000 low-income diabetics whom the Tories were going to deprive of funds for necessary medical supplies? How about all those kids who were going to be shoved into huge classrooms because Jim Prentice did not want to tax corporations and the wealthy? How about university students and professors and staff whose institutions were being diminished by cuts? How about the children in provincial care for whom Rachel Notley has been a staunch defender in the legislature for 7 years? How about everyone who requires decent and affordable long-term care or homecare?  In short, almost all Albertans who are not part of the selfish one percent with most of the money. Even many of them will realize after a while that having a well-educated, healthy population and proper infrastructure is helpful to the economy of this province, as is economic diversification.

But there will no doubt be a continuous scaremongering campaign by the corporate sector and their trained seal “research institutes” and media outlets to try to prevent the Notley government from fulfilling its promises. Certainly their counterparts in Ontario in the early 1990s caused the Bob Rae NDP government to break election promises and disillusion voters by embracing policies of austerity. Rachel Notley has made clear that Albertans require the same level of health, education, and social services when the price of oil is low as they require when it is high. She has made pledges regarding the environment, Aboriginal peoples, and the rights of working people in the public and private
sectors to have decent wages and safe, healthy workplaces. We believe that she means what she says and that her MLAs will also want to implement the promises that they made to the people of Alberta.

Congratulations not only to the NDP but to the voters of Alberta who demonstrated that they could unite behind one progressive party and break the cycle demonstrated in the 2004 and 2008 elections of giving four in ten votes to progressive parties but in such a way that it resulted in few seats going to progressives. The Alberta Democratic Renewal Project, created after the 2008 election, hoped to unite those votes by lobbying the political parties of the centre-left to nominate only one candidate per riding between them. The Liberals were interested in the idea; the NDP were not. So Change Alberta was launched in an effort to encourage strategic voting by progressive voters. In the 2012 election, we recommended the most winnable centre-left candidate in 42
seats that seemed within reach of the progressive parties. More of our choices were Liberal than NDP if only because the latter party had no recognizable heartbeat in Calgary at the time.  And 93 percent of our recommendations proved correct in practice. In that election, however, about half of progressive voters naively but understandably chose to vote for Alison Redford’s bogus progressive Tory platform in order to stave off the wingnuts of the Wildrose Party.

As the 2015 election began, Change Alberta continued to see its role as non-partisan. Its active members included members of both the NDP and Liberal parties and many people who are non-partisan. But it quickly became clear that, among progressive parties, the NDP had the leader who was inspiring Albertans, and a degree of organization and financial resources that easily surpassed that of the other three progressive parties. The Liberals were leaderless and imploding, and the Alberta Party lacked traction outside Calgary-Elbow while the Greens were simply not in the race. So, we largely recommended that our readers vote NDP in their constituencies, only departing from that viewpoint in seats where another party was overwhelmingly better organized than the NDP and was not being obliterated in the polls by the NDP. That caused many candidates and activists in the Liberal and Alberta parties to accuse us of being an “NDP front.” The election results demonstrate the absurdity of that claim. The only seats where we incorrectly predicted the leading progressive were four seats in which we gave the nod to the Liberals
rather than the NDP. The other progressive parties generally had a tiny fraction of the vote that the NDP enjoyed on election night.

Part of the problem is that while our legislature is composed of the winners of races constituency by constituency, a large majority of voters do not care one whit about local campaigns and local candidates. They are voting for a leader, or a party, or a particular party’s platform. The way people vote and the first-past-the-post individual constituency system are simply not in sync. We need political reform that provides at least a measure of proportional representation (PR) of parties according to their province-wide strength or that indeed bases the whole legislature on PR. The Alberta NDP has long been a supporter of PR but it will be interesting to see, now that they have benefited from FPTP, whether PR still looks attractive to them. For old-timers like myself, it seems remarkable that a progressive government has been elected in Alberta. I certainly did not believe that in my lifetime either an NDP government or a progressive Liberal government (of the kind that Kevin Taft offered in 2004 and 2008 as opposed to the reactionary type that Lawrence Decore offered in 1993)
would be elected in Alberta. I am pleasantly shocked that the carefully cultivated Tory ideology that seemed to equate the Progressive Conservative Party with the province and its oil riches (we were made to almost believe that the Tories had put the oil in the ground) has been sufficiently dispelled to allow an NDP government to form in Alberta. I believe that I speak for everyone in Change Alberta when I say that we not only wish them well but that we trust and indeed insist that they stay true to their promises. If they do, Alberta, which is currently the province with the most inequality in Canada, the worst environmental record, the worst record in occupational safety, a huge backload in needed infrastructure, and only so-so public services despite all the Tory propaganda that says otherwise, can reinvent itself.

Hooray Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP! Longstanding progressive Albertans and recent converts are elated by your victory. So many of our hopes rest upon you. Good luck as you roll up your sleeves for all Albertans.

Alvin Finkel is chair of Change Alberta and professor emeritus of
History at Athabasca University

6 responses to “A NEW ERA BEGINS by Alvin Finkel

  1. concerned citizen

    To Pundit’s Guide:

    As they were last election, Alvin’s recommendations were admirably close. So he wasn’t 100% — I believe that ANY effort that caring people put forth to change the political landscape in Alberta to a progressive one is worthy of credit and should not be scorned.

    P.S. You have no idea whether this campaign was “irrelevant” or not; in fact, many Canadian progressives have been showing a great deal of interest in strategic voting and coalitions as of late, thanks to the country’s (and up until the election, Alberta’s) desperate political state. At the very least, it makes voters open their minds to strategic options citizens of many other countries employ all the time to win.

    Don’t scoff. Who knows, if the PCs and Wildrose join forces in the coming years, we could very well see the NDs eating crow to create a coalition — something they have previously turned up their noses at. Politics makes for strange bedfellows.

  2. You were completely wrong about Calgary McCall and Calgary Buffalo where your recommended candidates came third and fourth, and this ought to have been stated up top. If you had just stated Vote NDP you would have been more – at least accurate, if not relevant. Luckily this campaign was so ineffective as to have had no difference to the outcome, because otherwise you would have been HELPing to re-elect PCs in those seats with your recommendations. And none of the multi-party endorsed candidates won, either (Blakeman or Dawe).

    Also, it defies common sense to say it wasn’t former PC voters switching to the NDP. There were too many NDP votes for it to be otherwise.

  3. lorna.stefanick@shaw.ca

    Congrats to those who promoted change and were rewarded last night. Seems to me that Change Alberta now needs to change gears and morph into Change Canada.

  4. One Happy Voter

    Yes, what a joyful night! Who, among those of us over, say 55, would have imagined it in our lifetime?

    But, as David says, the spectre of PCs and Wildrose coalescing in the next election is a concern (vis-à-vis Reform Alliance & PC) — as it would have been if we had had proportional rep during this election. Perhaps Prof. Finkel will analyze the numbers from the election and tell us how things would have turned out in each riding had PC and Wildrose been united now.

    The solution, of course, is for the public (especially high school students) to be continually educated about civic matters and for the ND to govern so fairly and honestly that they pull more right wing voters to the centre next election.

    By the way, Alvin, last night on TV, at least one commentator said that the win was due to PC voters casting ballots for the ND in droves. Do the numbers bear this out or did new voters come from previous Liberal & Green/AB party ranks?
    PS. Congratulations to everyone on the ChangeAlberta team who worked on this campaign. Every little bit helped!

    • I think it is misleading to say that “PC voters” cast ballots for the ND in droves. It needs to be qualified in this manner: ” New PC voters in 2012 who had voted Liberal in 2004 and 2008 stampeded to the NDP in 2015. These were progressive voters who had migrated reluctantly to the PCs in 2012 to stop the Wildrose advance, but were then appalled by Alison Redford’s turn to the right once the election was over and then Jim Prentice’s willingness to welcome the Wildrose MLAs into his own caucus. I add this qualification because the progressive vote in 2004 was 41.5% and in 2008 was 39.4 percent. It did not shoot up dramatically this time–it was 47.5 percent but was so concentrated on the NDP as to have real effect for once. So, yes, some lifelong Conservatives voted NDP this time, but probably not that many overall since many of the new NDP votes came from people voting for the first time.

  5. Although I am overjoyed by the change in Alberta, we have to face it that it was First-past-the-post that produced it. PR is part of the ANDP policy book, but was specifically ignored during the Election. I do not want to detract from Rachel Notley’s achievement, or her integrity, but i suspect she will be a hard nut to crack if we are to get Progressive electoral reform. Nothing would please me more than to be proven wrong.

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