If you’ve been following the news in Alberta lately, the province recently voted in the NDP as the party in power, ending a 44 year reign of power for the conservatives. The coming months and years will be a formative period, and it’s probably fair to wait at least a little bit before picking them apart as we do all parties in power. Still, it’s never too early for a few initial thoughts.
First of all, I don’t think this victory is so much a testament as to how much Alberta wants a left-wing party in power as it is a testament to how angry Albertans were with the conservative party. If you remember the last conservative premier who wasn’t filling an interim role, you may recall that she turned out to be a complete megalomaniac, and if at all possible, an even worse person. Yes, she was the one who built a penthouse on her roof from taxpayers’ dollars, booked entire planes for herself, and refused access to media, party members and constituents. Being so long in power, the party was bound to take it for granted sooner or later. This election will serve as a wakeup call that a conservative victory is no longer a shoo-in in Alberta, and if the premier and party turns out to be a practical joke, the people won’t hesitate to vote them out of office.
The interesting question becomes, has Alberta really (I mean really) shifted its thinking to align with left wing ideology? Historically speaking, Alberta has always been the most rightwing of all provinces. And with good reason – with Alberta generating vast amounts of money through the oil and gas industry, it isn’t hard to see why a rightwing party with conservative views on corporate taxes was favored. Why, then, has the thinking all of a sudden changed, beyond the obvious anger directed towards the party that seemingly betrayed its people?
In my opinion, it boils down to a few key reasons. To begin, the economy is in the gutter right now. Everyone knows that, and for a province whose income comes from one sector only, that’s a huge worry. People are losing seemingly secure jobs left and right, salaries have dropped, employment has all but frozen, and a cloud of fear hangs over the province like a disease. The purely capitalistic practices of business which have served the province so well for decades seems to be failing in an era where competition for oil production is at an all time high. Compounded with the struggling Canadian dollar, increased environmental awareness and the Keystone Pipeline hitting a brick wall (which we shall call the American Congress), the economy has taken a beating in Alberta lately. As someone who’s family and entire life is built around the industry, Alberta’s economic woes are downright frightening. And it seems Alberta feels the same way – seeing that the conservative policies no longer worked for them, they voted for a party with the exact opposite mindsight.
Furthermore, this election had a huge voter turnout. I don’t have the exact numbers, but apathy seemed to be lower than what we can usually count on it being. This means that more young people voted than normally do, and that made a huge difference. It’s always been said that the younger generation is in favor of a more involved leftwing party, and why not? We live in an era where university prices are almost unaffordable for many students; it’s never been harder to find and secure a job, and the traditional jobs that defined society for the past several generations are changing, as the youth needs to adapt to a world that is vastly different from the one in which their parents grew up. It follows logically that they would be in favor of a government that intervenes in the economy and actively seeks to help its people when things seems to go south, instead of sitting back and letting the economy fix itself. The youth voted in this election, and made its presence felt, which is a huge factor in how the NDP came to power.
The times are certainly changing in Alberta. How do I feel about it?
The most honest answer I can give is that I’m not sure, and that I remain very confused. And the reason I’m confused is because the place where I grew up, Alberta, is a bit of a niche environment in terms of its economy. The policies that benefit that kind of economy contradict the policies of the party which just won power, and the policies, if not the party, with which I think I’m most inclined to align with.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a rightwing thinker if we’re talking politics. The defnitions get a little muddy here, though. Because even Canada’s rightwing party isn’t as rightwing as you would expect your typical rightwing party to be, as Canada has always leaned more to the left politically. I would say the conservative party aligns with the views of the Democratic party in the USA, which we know to be the leftwing party in America (if we consider it against the Republicans, at least). On that line of thought, the NDP is far, far, far left on the political spectrum. We always joke about it, but there is some truth to the statement that the NDP has a lot of policies that would be embraced, if at least more so than the policies of the conservative party, by a communist. Before we let the connotation destroy the conversation, let me instead say that the NDP is basically your FDR type party, which is in favor of heavy government intervention in the economy. And I don’t think this is compatible with the economy of Alberta, at least based on the industry on which Alberta is built.
Alberta has always been the province that makes the big bucks. It’s essentially one massive corporation, given how all the revenue comes from one industry and the sheer amount of money that is generated by that industry. And we know that historically, the policies that benefit the corporate world the most are your standard rightwing, laissez-faire beliefs. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. Of course Alberta stands to benefit more with lower corporate taxes, a more transparent government, and privatized everything. It’s just the market it is. There’s a reason the conservatives have been in power for decades, despite the lack of respect for some administrations – the policies practiced by the conservatives let Alberta grow wealthy. It’s why a lot of people, me included, aligned ourselves with the conservative party of Alberta despite being against the policies in a more practical environment (or at least one that isn’t as niche as a one-industry province). The policies made Alberta rich.
Now all of that’s been turned on its head, and because of it, I’m unsure of what the future entails in Alberta. My immediate thought is that voting NDP can’t be good for the economy, because it’s bound to introudce incresed taxes, regulation and intervention in the practices that made Alberta wealthy to begin with. But that being said, something had to be done. Alberta’s economy was no longer prospering given a plethora of circumstances, and change at a political level makes sense as a place to start for finding the cure. History has shown us that in times of economical distress, voters tend to flock to more leftwing parties, because the thought of the government being there for you when you need them is comforting. Whether or not it works remains to be seen.
I will say one thing with certainty. If the NDP doesn’t immediately show some sign of progress, Alberta won’t be shy to vote them right back out of power. If we’ve learned nothing else from this election, we know at least that we’ve reached an era in Alberta where the government will be held accountable to the people. So let’s cross our fingers and pray that the NDP can work some magic, because God knows Alberta needs it right now.