Alberta’s sea change: a boon or bust for federal NDP?

WATCH: NDP MPs were jubilant Wednesday in Ottawa, on the heels of their party’s smashing victory in the Alberta provincial election.

OTTAWA —Wednesday morning in Ottawa, the prime minister issued a written statement offering sincere congratulations, the Liberal leader said Canadians are hungry for change and New Democrats had a blindingly bright outlook.

Such was the scene in the nation’s capital hours after the provincial NDP swept Alberta in a historic election, bringing an end to a 44-year Progressive Conservative dynasty.

While the reverberations of Tuesday’s historic election continued to ripple through town, the question on everyone’s lips Wednesday was whether this sea change meant anything at all on the federal playing field.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, answers gleaned in the halls of Parliament depended on who you asked. Many federal New Democrats who stopped to speak said there was no question; Last night’s results spell victory for them in the next federal election, scheduled for October.

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READ MORE: NDP stomps out 44-year PC dynasty, Jim Prentice resigns

“I think about the fact they told us we couldn’t win seats in Quebec, and look what happened in 2011. And we were told we could never do anything in Alberta and then look what happened last night,” said NDP deputy leader Meagan Leslie.” So I think this sets up the federal NDP well. We’re in a great position. There’s a tight three-way race here federally, and it sets us in a great position to actually do this in 2015 and beat Stephen Harper.”

WATCH: Conservative MPs downplayed the importance of their crushing loss in the Alberta provincial election, saying it won’t affect what they do federally.

After Leslie offered her opinion to reporters she made her way into the NDP’s weekly caucus meeting, where she and her colleagues erupted in cheers as their leader stepped to the front of the room and said what many of his MPs had on their way to work this morning.

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“Canadians want change, and change is with the NDP,” Thomas Mulcair exclaimed over applause and joyful cries. “And what a great, optimistic, positive message it sends for real change across Canada.”

READ MORE: How the economy is reacting to the Alberta NDP win

Conservatives who stopped to answer questions were more subdued, some saying what happens in a provincial election has little to do with federal politics.

“We’ve always worked hard with constituents, and what we’re hearing from constituents is that the federal party still has a lot of support in Alberta,” said Multiculturalism Minister Tim Uppal.

WATCH: Federal NDP used the Alberta electoral win to push the Conservatives on a variety of issues Wednesda in the House of Commons

“I’ve been through experiences like this in the past,” said long-time Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton. “Everyone will second guess the result, but …  I don’t think it has much impact on what we’re doing federally. The Progressive Conservatives have been in government for a long time.”

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So who’s right? Does the Alberta vote signal strong support for the NDP come October, or are the elections completely separate matters that have little effect on one another?

The answer, it seems, lies somewhere in the middle.

“They’re probably right, both of them,” said Julian Castro-Rae, associate professor of political science at the University of Alberta.

READ MORE: What’s changed in Alberta since 1971?

Whoever stands to benefit or lose, he said, hinges on a number of questions: the win in a province that’s traditionally fiscally conservative could help lure federal voters who were hesitant to vote NDP. Or, maybe, the success will end up splitting the left vote and helping the Conservatives.

A third scenario could even see the federal NDP hurt if Alberta’s NDP leader Rachel Notley doesn’t do well, Castro-Rae said.

“We have to remember the experience of Ontario in the early 1990s, when against all expectations they elected an NDP government,” Castro-Rae said, recalling the strength of the party at the time. “But because of all the blunders all the mistakes of that government in Ontario, all the federal support fell and the federal NDP was punished in the next election. Now, Notley has the opportunity to do well or wrong.”

WATCH: The Alberta election in five minutes

Then again, maybe all this speculation is pointless, University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman said.

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“There may be reverberations, but it’s not an indicator of much at all,” he said. “Voters aren’t stupid. They can tell the difference between federal and provincial issues and between leaders.”

What’s more, is political observers can’t ignore the fact the federal Conservatives are stronger in Alberta than anywhere else.

“They haven’t had the same string of scandals, or none that have stuck, as the Progressive Conservatives did,” Wiseman said, recalling news of a restraining order imposed on one minister and questions about wild spending that came out during the campaign. “If any of those things happen during the federal election, it won’t matter whoever is ahead in the polls. People react to the news.”

Heard around the Hill:

Lots of people had lots to say on Parliament Hill Wednesday. Here’s a sampling of what some MPs and ministers said.

The provincial and federal parties are different and this situation is a unique one.

– Joe Oliver, Federal Finance Minister

“Calling an election before [Premier Jim Prentice] needed to call an election, I look at it as a tactical mistake by the Progressive Conservatives.”
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– David Tilson, Conservative MP

[The results] frees up peoples’ imaginations. They know we no longer live in a two-party system federally.

– NDP MP Craig Scott

“Any federal Conservative that stands in front of you today and says they’re not worried is lying.”

– NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen

I’m going to check any Conservative I find today. I’m going to check their pulse to make sure they’re OK.

– NDP veterans critic Peter Stoffer

“Let’s see what Premier Notley does. Every NDP government across the country in the past has hurt the economy badly, so I have to fear for that, but let’s give her a chance.”

– Leon Benoit, Conservative MP

It underscores for me the desire for change that exists not just in Alberta but that we’re seeing across the country.

– Liberal leader Justin Trudeau

The NDP has become a player indeed.  That’s what I can say based on my previous experience when they were not – they were not a force at all.

– Conservative parliamentary secretary Deepak Obhrai

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