Alberta election 2015: Notley win echoes in Ottawa as NDP, Liberals try to rock same tune
Alberta NDP's theme of change doesn't necessarily play on the federal stage
They call themselves Notley Crüe, a play on the top-selling heavy metal rockers from the 1980s. And these young Albertans were a large and vocal supporting band for Rachel Notley this week when she rocked Alberta by punting the Progressive Conservatives from the top of the charts after a 44-year run.
Notley's New Democrats swept Alberta, shook up political leaders in Ottawa, and upended the conventional wisdom everywhere that no left-wing party could ever form a government in Wild Rose country.
"Wow!" was how Calgary's Mayor Naheed Nenshi reacted to the news Tuesday night.
No doubt the reaction was similar in Ottawa, where political leaders facing their own election in a few months are already trying to figure out what worked for Notley — and how to mimic it.
Part of the NDP's massive victory was due to simple voter fatigue with the PCs after too many years in power and too many scandals.
But it was also due to a carefully crafted NDP platform, neither too left nor too right, that found broad appeal among those young people who proudly wore Notley Crüe T-shirts wherever they went, and among older voters in once-bedrock Conservative ridings in Calgary, Medicine Hat and Red Deer.
They were all people who wanted change, wanted it badly enough after four decades of PC rule that they overcame their fear of the unknown and elected a social democratic party with no history of governing in Alberta and few candidates with political experience.
And they're exactly the kind of voters all three federal parties now want to reach, not just in Alberta, but right across the country when the general election is held this fall.
'Good news' — but for who?
"What a great optimistic message it sends for real change across Canada," NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said after throwing open the doors of his party's weekly caucus meeting to reporters. "There's only good news in this."
A little later, just down the hall in Parliament's Centre Block, a remarkably similar refrain from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
"I heard from all my visits out to Alberta that people are looking for an alternative," he said. "They're looking to not being taken for granted, and I think the provincial NDP capitalized on that in a very smart way.
"Ms. Notley put forward a responsible plan and was rewarded for it in a very positive campaign. And I think that is a lesson all politicians should heed."
Lessons are one thing. Lessons learned are quite another. And whatever lessons emerged from the NDP's mauling of a once seemingly unbeatable foe may only go so far.
For Mulcair, the NDP brand should receive a boost outside of Quebec, where his party now holds most of its seats.
But Notley neatly sidestepped questions about her relationship with Mulcair at her news conference on Wednesday. While professing respect for him, she said she had respect for all the party leaders.
She seemed more comfortable when asked how she'd work with the prime minister, a fellow Albertan, singling out climate change and co-operation on building jobs in the energy sector.
That reference to climate change was interesting, since the issue merits a single mention, on page 17, of the 22-page NDP platform.
"We will take leadership on the issue of climate change and make sure Alberta is part of crafting solutions with stakeholders, other provinces and the federal government. First steps will include an energy efficiency strategy and a renewable energy strategy."
On whether she supports the federal NDP call for a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Notley dodged.
Asked to explain her stance in opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, she weaved.
In short, there's not much there for either Mulcair or Trudeau to chew on.
Harnessing desire for change
Not that they aren't looking for morsels.
Start with the "change" theme that played such an important role in the Alberta results. Both opposition leaders talked about it Wednesday, testing the notion that a decade of Harper's Conservatives has left progressive voters nationally with the same yearning to look elsewhere.
But change is a better motivator when it begins with voters and not as a campaign slogan.
In other words, the NDP benefited in Alberta from anger at their opponents. They benefited from a failed experiment three years earlier when angry Albertans flirted with Wildrose — a party at the opposite end of the political spectrum, before stampeding back into the embrace of the PCs.
Janice MacKinnon, a former NDP cabinet minister in Saskatchewan, says Mulcair and Trudeau shouldn't read too much into the change thing.
"I think those same voters who voted en masse in Alberta this week will go out en masse and vote federally for the Conservatives this fall. On the Prairies, voters separate those two quite easily. They vote NDP provincially, Conservative federally, and that's been a pattern."
Notley was also the beneficiary of vote-splitting on the right, taking seats in previously out-of-reach areas. At the federal scene, the opposite is true.
Vote-splitting is happening on the left, and for the Conservatives, that's a big advantage in critical ridings in the suburbs of Toronto, Vancouver and other major cities.
Even so, Federal New Democrats and Liberals will be pushing hard to tap into that same discontent that finally galvanized Albertans, hoping nearly 10 years of Conservative domination in Ottawa is enough to shake loose party supporters.
Perhaps even enough for one of them to form their own version of Notley's Crüe.