The New Democratic Party, whose roots are in Canada’s labor and social democratic movements, swept Alberta’s elections on May 5, winning 53 of the 87 seats in the provincial legislature. The Progressive Conservative Party, which had run the province for the past 44 years, was ousted. The election results shocked Canada’s bourgeoisie.
Alberta is one of the major oil-producing provinces of Canada and the single biggest exporter of oil to the U.S. It is regarded as Canada’s most conservative province. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary seat and main base of support are there.
The Toronto Stock Exchange fell to its lowest point in a month after the election news broke. The Conservatives running the federal government were said to be despondent and overcome with a “morgue-like” spirit.
The major Canadian news services devoted article after article to analyzing the impact of the New Democratic Party sweep, while its supporters throughout the country were jubilant. One professor, born and raised on a First Nation reservation in southern Alberta, stayed up all night to watch the results because he was so surprised and happy.
Some substantive issues were raised in the campaign. The global fall in oil prices has hit Alberta hard, especially since the Progressive Conservative government hadn’t set up a significant “rainy day” fund. The solution their campaign proposed was austerity: laying off 2,000 people, mainly in health care jobs, and slightly increasing taxes on individuals making more than $250,000 (Canadian). User, cigarette and liquor fees and taxes would all rise, and so would parking ticket fines.
But while taxes would go up on individuals, so would the deficit. There would be no increase in corporate taxes, and the complicated royalty scheme on oil-sand and gas extraction wouldn’t be touched in the Progressive Conservatives’ budget. (CBC, March 26)
The New Democratic Party proposed increasing taxes on wealthy individuals and businesses and cutting back on the extractions of oil sands and other highly toxic materials from Alberta.
In a discussion of the economy during a significant campaign debate between Jim Prentice, the Progressive Conservative leader, and Rachel Notley, the New Democratic Party leader, Prentice told Notley, “I know that math is difficult.” (New York Times, May 6) This was considered by many to be a sexist, arrogant comment.
Moreover, Notley, who will be the province’s new premiere, is hardly a novice at math; she began her career as a lawyer negotiating contracts for labor unions in Alberta and British Columbia.
When Prentice was asked in a radio interview who was responsible for the economic crisis facing Alberta, he arrogantly said, “We all need only look in the mirror.” (nationalpost.com, March 5) After losing the election, he resigned from both his party post and his legislative seat.
The New Democratic Party might not have enough of a mandate to push its program through, but its win has certainly shaken up Canada’s political establishment.