What could an NDP government look like in Alberta?
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“I do expect the NDP to win,” said Barry Kay, associate professor in political science at Wilfrid Laurier University. “I’d be surprised if it’s not a majority.”
An NDP majority would be totally unprecedented in Alberta. Not only has the NDP never governed in that province, but the Progressive Conservatives have been in power for 43 years.
Not everyone believes the hype, though. Melanee Thomas, assistant professor of political science at the University of Calgary, doesn’t think the NDP will win enough rural seats to form the government. “In those communities, seeing a New Democratic vote that’s significant enough to win, I am skeptical,” she said.
Kay disagrees. “I think that rural Alberta outside the big cities is clearly the NDP’s greatest vulnerability,” he said. “But they don’t have to win all that many ridings.”
Forty-four seats are required for a majority. Both Thomas and Kay believe that the NDP will probably sweep or nearly sweep the City of Edmonton (19 seats) and make gains in Calgary (25 seats). Kay thinks they will be quite successful in Calgary, Thomas less so. If they nearly take Calgary, said Kay, they only need a few seats elsewhere to get a majority – and there are 43 up for grabs.
Either way though, with polls suggesting that an NDP government is a possibility, it makes you wonder: what might that look like?
A good place to start is with their platform. The NDP has promised to raise the corporate tax rate to 12 per cent, increase taxes on the highest-income Albertans, and review the province’s oil and gas royalties program, among many other elements in their platform.
This platform isn’t out of step with what Albertans want, said Thomas. “This is pretty much in line with my best read of public opinion in Alberta.”
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Finding people to lead the government could be tough, though. Only four NDP candidates have ever sat in the legislature, including party leader, Rachel Notley.
That said, Thomas thinks that those four are strong. “You’ve got Brian Mason as a former leader who has got good experience,” she said. David Eggen has legislative experience and was with Friends of Medicare. Deron Bilous, a former teacher, knows policy well, she thinks.
Thomas also points to Shannon Phillips, who is running in Lethbridge West, as a strong candidate and possible cabinet contender. Still, there are also a handful of current students and recent graduates with relatively little experience.
“That’s always a challenge for the new premier is to pick your team and make sure you’ve got a plan going forward,” said Bob Rae, former premier of Ontario and former federal Liberal interim leader. He has some experience in this area – his New Democratic Party was elected to power in Ontario in 1990, in what was a surprise win, even to him.
“You find good people,” he said. “You learn about who’s good and not good.”
“[Notley] cannot allow her decision-making to be influenced by ideologues,” said Kay, who thinks that this contributed to the Ontario NDP’s eventual defeat.
“She’s basically got to run a steady-as-she-goes government and obviously she’s going to run a more progressive government than Prentice and the Conservatives were before.”
And an NDP upset could throw the opposition parties off-balance, gaining Notley a few months’ reprieve while the PC and Wildrose parties possibly look for new leaders and reorganize. “If she wins a majority, she’s going to have some time to figure it out,” said Kay.
“The government will not end if we happen to change it,” said Thomas. “To be frank, in Alberta, a breath of fresh air wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
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