Political reversals not always easy, even for the winners

The Alberta election resulted in the Progressive Conservatives losing power in that province after 44 years as government. A former NDP politician who won in a similar reversal in Ontario warns that there may not be much of a honeymoon period for the new government.
Rachel Notley is Alberta's next premier after the NDP swept through the province in this week's vote. (Dan Riedlhuber/Reuters)

The Alberta election resulted in the Progressive Conservatives losing power after 44 years as the government.

The New Democratic Party will now take the reigns for the first time in that province.

You might think that winning such a decisive landslide would guarantee a honeymoon period for the new kids on the block as they settle in to their cabinet offices. 

But Zanana Akande says think again.

Zanana Akande knows what it's like to win a surprise NDP victory over an established government. She was part of Bob Rae's cabinet, overturning the Liberals in 1990. She has some words of caution for Alberta's new NDP government.

She was one of the NDP politicians who came to power in Bob Rae's 1990 victory in Ontario, where the New Democrats won a surprise reversal over the Liberals.

Akande has some words of caution for Alberta's New Democrats: don't assume you won because they love you, or your policies.

Once you find yourself there, you find that you weren't entirely put there by people who supported you, but by people who wanted to demonstrate their opposition to what had been.- Zanana Akande

"When you begin to govern you find that they are not really supportive of some of the ways that you go about it, and some of the issues that you think are of great importance," she says.

"The compromise is that you begin to weigh and change a lot of your platform in a way that you hope the wider electorate will support you. Unfortunately, very often that means that you move so far from your platform that some of (your party's) members begin to feel that they have got on the wrong boat, and they begin to feel discontented."

Akande says working with bureaucrats and staffers who are entrenched in another party's politics, and trying to bring a whole cabinet of inexperienced politicians up to speed can also be challenging when a party takes power for the first time.

"I think the inexperience meant we were becoming accustomed to the processes of government at the same time as we were trying to build our case to get what we wanted," she explains.

She also cautions that the less experienced of Alberta's new MLA's may find there are new tensions to deal with when party ideals come up against pragmatic politics. She says in her experience, party leadership was looking ahead to future elections, and strategies that would allow the electorate to support the NDP on a continuing basis. On the other end of the spectrum, were young, activist candidates who wanted to use their electoral win to immediately put the party's platform into action.

"We have enough people outside who are questioning us without questioning each other, I would suggest that they just get together and see how much change they can affect, collectively, rather than dividing and making yet another hurdle for each fo them to climb over."


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