Alberta's foray into leftist politics sets stage for strong opposition

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Alberta’s New Democratic Party crashed out of government after Tuesday’s provincial election, but one of the most inexperienced parties ever to take office in Canada will likely become the strongest opposition the western province has ever seen.

Alberta New Democratic (NDP) leader and Premier Rachel Notley, flanked by her son Ethan and husband Lou Arab, reacts to her loss at her election night party in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, April, 16, 2019. REUTERS/Candace Elliott

The NDP became the first one-term government in Alberta history when the United Conservative Party tapped into voter concerns about the economy and a struggling energy sector to win a majority. The UCP were elected or leading vote counts in 63 out of 87 seats as of midday on Wednesday.

But, unlike previous years, the NDP has a strong contingent of former cabinet members in its opposition ranks.

“For the first time since 1993 we are going to have a significant opposition and that’s a new realm in Alberta politics,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

The opposition Alberta Liberals won 40 percent of the 1993 vote but none of their legislators had any government experience.

It is unusual for the opposition in Alberta to have any experience of being in power; in the past parties have typically disappeared after losing an election. The Progressive Conservatives ruled for more than four decades but merged with the Wildrose Party to form the UCP after losing heavily in 2015.

The United Farmers of Alberta, which governed the province from 1921-35, got out of politics altogether after being defeated by the Alberta Social Credit Party, which in turn was ousted in the 1971 election and saw its support collapse in the 1975 vote.

NDP leader Rachel Notley’s left-leaning party swept to a shock victory in Alberta’s 2015 election, ending 44 years of conservative rule in the country’s oil-producing heartland.

At the time, just four members of its caucus had previously served as Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). The other 50 newly-elected lawmakers were political rookies with diverse backgrounds including yoga teaching, medicine, law and sales, handed the task of steering Alberta through a crippling recession triggered by the 2014-15 global oil price crash.

Despite Tuesday’s result, traditionally conservative Alberta’s dalliance with left-leaning politics is far from over, political scientists said.

In her concession speech, Notley, who will stay on as NDP leader, promised to defend healthcare, education and LGBTQ rights.

“Albertans have hired us to lead a constructive and effective opposition,” she told supporters. “I will make sure our vision of Alberta endures with a rigorous and robust opposition holding the government to account.”

Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Marguerita Choy