Alberta is the Texas of Canada. The province has 3.7 million people and has long been the economic powerhouse of Canada, with its rich energy resources. Like Texas, its politics are staunchly right-wing, with the Progressive Conservatives holding power locally having won twelve straight elections since 1970. But all that came to a crashing halt on Tuesday.
Canada’s quasi-socialist New Democratic party (NDP) stunned observers by winning power in Alberta for the first time, capturing 53 out of 87 seats in the provincial parliament. The dramatic fall of the Conservatives — who lost a dramatic 60 seats and will now hold only 10 out of 87 seats — carries real lessons for Canada’s governing conservatives, who must face the voters in a national election in September. It also should be instructive to U.S. conservatives, who should avoid the mistakes Alberta’s Progressive Conservative (PC) party made in splintering its base and raising taxes.
Conservative premier Jim Prentice took office last September facing a $7 billion budget hold created by a sharp drop in oil prices. He proceeded to plug some of the gap by raiding the province’s “rainy day” fund and raising taxes and fees. Only 7 percent of his budget plan involved true spending cuts. “The budgets of the other parties — including the NDP — could be viewed as more responsible,” Jason Clemons, executive vice president of the conservative Fraser Institute, told me.
Premier Prentice then blundered by deciding to call a snap early election to secure a mandate. But his budget proved wildly unpopular. The left-wing NDP attacked it for not raising corporate taxes, while the Wildrose party — a sort of local tea -party grouping — attacked it for moving away from a flat tax and imposing a new health-care tax.
Professor Duane Bratt of Calgary’s Mount Royal University says the budget gave everyone something to hate and resulted in a “political earthquake.” The Progressive Conservatives were crushed and became only the third largest party. The NDP went from 4 seats to 53 seats overnight. The Wildrose party also gained strength, going from five seats to 21 seats, and will be the official opposition in Alberta’s parliament.
Conservatives in Stephen Harper’s federal government in Ottawa say they need to digest the Alberta earthquake.
“It was more like a morgue. Someone said it was like — it’s Albertastan now,” Justice Minister Peter MacKay told reporters.
“Having lived through the experience federally when Conservatives [were] divided, it is a recipe for losing, period.”
Incoming NDP premier Rachel Notley has already tried to assure energy interests in the state that they will be “a-okay” and there will be no sudden lurches to the left. After all, on the national level the last thing the NDP wans is a government in Alberta that practices scary policies and gives fodder to its opponents just before the entire nation goes to the polls in September.