Flow of donations in last 2 weeks helped NDP win Alberta election

An influx of donations in the last half of the 2015 campaign allowed the Alberta NDP to firm up growing support and win the election, delegates were told on the opening day of the party’s convention in Calgary.

Rachel Notley's chief of staff Brian Topp tells NDP convention donations came at exactly right time

Delegates at the NDP convention in Calgary watch a panel on how the party won the 2015 election. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC )

An influx of donations in the last half of the 2015 campaign allowed the Alberta NDP to firm up growing support and win the election, delegates were told on the opening day of the party's convention in Calgary.

Brian Topp, chief of staff to Premier Rachel Notley, says the money came in just as Notley's popularity started to spike in the last two weeks of the campaign. 

"Our funding came in as the campaign took off," Topp said during a panel on how the NDP executed the win. 

"So the funding that we had put ads up, put signs up, and visibility up and stuff through people's doors at the close of what turned out to be exactly the right moment."

The convention in Calgary is the first since the NDP under Notley ended the Progressive Conservatives' 44 years in power in May 2015.

Notley thanked delegates at the start of the convention by saying the victory couldn't have happened without them. 

"Without you, we would not be doing as well as we are now," she said. "So please keep pushing us forward and keep holding us to account. Because quite frankly, this is what this convention is all about."

'Math is hard' 

The look at the election was a light-hearted start to the convention as Topp and NDP election communications director Cheryl Oates shared anecdotes from the campaign trail.

Oates, who now serves as Notley's director of communications, said the leaders' debate was a chance to see Notley, who she described as a feisty, "very clever and very funny" woman. 

"And she knocked out it of the park that night," Oates said. 

"If we did have to pick a turning point in the campaign, that was certainly it."

Topp agreed with that assessment, saying he went toe to toe with Notley when he played the part of former premier Jim Prentice in practice debates. 

He recalled sitting backstage during the debate when Prentice made his infamous "math is difficult" comment to Notley. 

"I was thinking, "Oh, you're going to be so sorry,'" Topp chuckled. "And he was."

Looking to 2019 

More than 800 delegates are celebrating the victory, but there is an undercurrent of unease that it may not be replicated in 2019.

One delegate reflected that feeling by reminding the panel that the NDP won 14 of their seats in rural Alberta, and without those seats, they would not have formed a majority government.

"How are we going to sustain our mobility, or our momentum in rural Alberta, going into the 2019 election?" he asked. "What's our plan going forward for rural engagement?"

Topp and the other panelists left the question to moderator Deron Bilous, minister of economic development.

"Part of it is that we are engaging with all Albertans," he said, adding the NDP caucus needs to put forward the issues faced by rural Albertans.

Bilous said by 2025 Alberta and Canada will be only one of five food-exporting jurisdictions  He said the government's efforts to sell Alberta products abroad will help people who grow and produce food.

Delegate Brendan Brown asked the panel about how to appeal to moderate voters without compromising NDP principles. Topp said the 2015 election shows they wouldn't have to sacrifice a thing.

"We won it as New Democrats. That was an unapologetic New Democrat platform," Topp said. 

Resolutions debate

​Since this is a party convention, delegates will also debate a number of resolutions, including amendments to the party's constitution, protection of married AISH recipients and public child care.

Another resolution calls on Alberta to eliminate daylight savings time and stay on standard time all year. Other resolutions call on the government to place a moratorium on hydraulic fracking and to back away from supporting pipelines that are opposed by First Nations. 

An resolution to separate the provincial and federal parties is also up for discussion. However, it is so far down on the list, it may not reach the convention floor this weekend.

Delegates will be discussing these resolutions behind closed doors, where the media has no access. 

The convention will feature addresses from some familiar faces: Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, and Ed Whittingham, executive director of the Pembina Institute. 

But a rising star on the Canadian political scene is also on the agenda.

Jagmeet Singh, the deputy leader of the Ontario New Democrats, will speak about diversity and equality on Saturday afternoon.