The 2019 Alberta General Election concluded with the Notley government relegated to a the city of Edmonton and a few scattered ridings in the Calgary area. Optimistic hopes among the centrist New Democrats that the crowded field of right wing candidates might swing the vote were swept aside as the province’s right wing rallied behind Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party, with very few votes going to Alberta Independence, Alberta Advantage, or the Alberta Party. Jason Kenney marched into office in full control of the legislature, the next five years of Alberta politics his to command.
Some New Democrats have chosen to hide their heads in the sand, believing that their ability to hold on to a measly few ridings in the capital city is a moral victory, if not a real one, or taking solace in the fact that they continue to be the official opposition. Others are simply dumbfounded that their party lost, after all the effort that Rachel Notley put in to appeal to the working Albertan – the farmers, truckers, rig pigs, and ditch diggers that form the backbone of our economy. The Notley government fought tooth and nail to drag pipelines to the sea. There was no royalty review. The minimum wage hike was modest and was taken slow so as not to hurt business. The Alberta New Democrats were pro-oil, pro-pipelines, anti-Indian, and anti-environment, everything that the CBC and Toronto bigwigs claimed that Albertans wanted. So why did they lose?
What New Democrats should be asking is . . . how did they possibly hang on to so many ridings? The NDP, both in their governance and in their campaign advertised themselves as nothing more than Orange Tories. Every policy put forward by the Notley government was just a slightly more moderate, slightly-more gay-friendly version of good, old-fashioned conservative policies. Albertans voted for the NDP in 2014 because they wanted a change from the old ways of the Progressive Conservative Party, but they just got more of the same. When every party advocates for the exact same policies, only the most convincing party will win. And the NDP, while certainly willing to rip land from under the feet of the First Peoples and willing to dredge the bitumen from deep underground and pipe it out of our province at a premium, they were nowhere near as convincing in their desire to do so as the United Conservative Party. Albertan workers saw that Notley would do it, but Kenney would do it with a smile.
So of course Kenney won. The NDP had no real policies of their own. Pipelines became the central issue of the election because the New Democrats couldn’t offer a single alternative. Why not refine and use the bitumen that we extract right here in Alberta? Why not build a trans-Alberta rail line from Lethbridge to Fort Mac to quickly, cleanly, safely, and cheaply transport thousands of passengers a day? Why not promote manufacturing in the cities? Why not survey farmers to build a proposal for comprehensive land reform to revitalize struggling rural areas? Why not build hospitals and schools in underserved areas? Why not introduce electoral reform to ensure more voices are heard and more proposals considered? Why not convert used-up old oil wells into geothermal vents? None of these options found their way into the NDP’s platform. Instead, the few progressive policies that the NDP even considered were modest, small, and poorly thought-out. Most policies that were raised were simply more moderate versions of what the United Conservative Party was proposing. After forty years of PC government, the first round of changes was so milquetoast and lacklustre that it barely seemed like anything changed at all. Why bother putting on a fresh coat of paint when the house is on fire? Albertans are not moderates who crave compromise and slow, incremental reform.
Those left in the cold by the disappointing change had nobody to vote for. The NDP have proved themselves to be nothing more than Tories unimpressed with the crass rhetoric and xenophobia of their less cultured and cosmopolitan counterparts. A kinder conservatism. A keener conservatism. One dressed up in academic jargon and sneering elitism. And still the NDP asks how they failed to appeal! In the absence of any choice reflective of their interests, the Alberta left wing stayed home on election night. Those whose jobs were on the line begrudgingly dragged their feet to the polls, casting their ballots as an act of survival.
Alberta politics cannot abide the NDP for long. A party which has no policies and no flagship platform cannot last amidst the fire and brimstone politics of Alberta. Where has the handwringing, compromise, and neoliberal hemming and hawing of the New Democrats landed us? The hard-fought-for minimum wage, the highest in the country, may soon become the lowest. Nurses and librarians have lost their jobs, and teachers are soon to follow. Gay-Straight Alliances in our schools are being shut down, and LGBTQ2+ students are being outed. Unions are preparing to be busted. First Nations are readying to fight the long battles to preserve their land and water. And if you think you’re not under threat, that you’re safe, that Kenney is the Premier that works for you, just wait until he comes for your job or your land or your rights. At least we can drink in the parks now, I guess.