People across the province woke up to a new reality last Wednesday morning.
Even though recent polls predicted the possibility of an Alberta NDP majority government, few could likely believe their eyes as the poll-by-poll results rolled in, and Rachel Notley was declared the winner.
An orange wave certainly swept across large swaths of the province, as after over 40 years of Progressive Conservative rule, Albertans voted for change in stunning fashion. Wildrose leader Brian Jean will form the Opposition, while Jim Prentice decided to throw in the towel, both as PC leader and as elected MLA for Calgary-Foothills, as his party was relegated to third place.
The campaign trail was filled with promises, proclamations and postulations on a wide range of topics and issues, as Jean and Notley used every trick up their collective sleeves in an attempt to upset Prentice and the PCs.
Both can consider their efforts successful, as the PCs will not be much of a factor for the next four years, before Albertans go to the polls again.
What happens between now and then, however, will be extremely important for Alberta. No matter how unpopular Prentice and his budget proved to be, he was right about one thing — a number of tough decisions need to be made in this province.
Energy revenues are not going to recover overnight, and the NDP will be plunged into the deep end right from the start, as Alberta attempts to dig itself out of a fiscal hole.
A budget will be one of the first orders of business, a budget which will require a multi-faceted approach to cutting costs, protecting essential services and generating more revenues for the province.
Albertans are getting the fresh start they voted for, and it will be up to Notley to deliver. The NDP leader has gone to great lengths to defend her party from attacks from the PCs and Wildrose, and many pundits, which warned a NDP government would be bad for business. In her victory speech, Notley attempted to reassure business leaders, as she did with the voting public throughout the campaign, to fend off fears of the NDP bogeyman.
Certainly, every NDP government which has ruled at times in provinces throughout Canada cannot be painted with the same brush. Incarnations of the NDP in British Columbia, Saskatchewan or Ontario, for instance, featured a range of political players, from leaders to cabinet ministers, which will not necessarily translate to an identical result here.
That said, the creation of a made-in-Alberta NDP will likely be critical to the success of Notley’s government. Albertans did vote for change, and expect change in a number of areas, as widespread disapproval of the Prentice budget suggested.
The NDP must find that balance in a province which has leaned to the right of the political spectrum for decades upon decades, and devise a plan which benefits the majority of Albertans from both a social and economic perspective.
Developing the right team will be the first order of business, as the Legislature in Edmonton will have a completely different feel, as many fresh faces will step into key Cabinet positions.
Will the NDP be up to the task? Time will tell, of course, as Albertans will be able to judge for themselves over the next four years, examining the efforts of a new government in Alberta.