5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Bring Your Own Lunch (BYOL) Policy Roundtable "The Left Turn in Alberta: What Does it Mean for the Energy Industry and for the Canadian Federal Election?"

 David Docherty discussed the effect of Rachel Notley’s election as Premier of Alberta and the transition from Progressive Conservative (PC) to New Democratic Party (NDP) government.  He began by providing context on Alberta’s recent political history, then continued by evaluating the potential effects of Notley’s premiership on Canada’s upcoming federal election and on Alberta’s energy sector.

Alberta is relatively unique as for the 13 provincial elections since 1971, the winning party (always PC) has won more than half of the popular vote seven times.  Because of this long tradition of PC governments and special consideration for the popular vote, if a premier led the PCs to a majority with less than 50% of the vote, they would be replaced.  The party leader is selected in an open fashion by Canadian standards; anyone can vote by buying an inexpensive party membership.  By 2014, however, such participation had declined significantly, pointing to an erosion in the party base.

Premier Ed Stelmach (2006-2011) had strong caucus support but alienated the energy sector by calling for a review of oil and gas royalties.  This led to the creation of the further-right Wildrose Party.  His successor, Alison Redford (2011-2014) was elected by wooing Liberal and NDP voters before shifting to the right and losing her centrist base.  She never gained caucus support and was mired in a number of spending scandals that ultimately led to her resignation.  The final PC premier Jim Prentice served until 2015, winning the leadership in a landslide.  A few quick victories were followed by a disappointing budget and early election call.  A poor campaign, misguided public and a Wildrose Party that was more capable of opposing than governing set the stage for the NDP’s victory.

As for the NDP’s impact on the federal election, Notley remains more popular in Alberta than federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, while Prime Minister Harper is better liked in the province than Prentice.  As such, the NDP’s rise might mean more for nearby provinces like Saskatchewan and British Columbia than for the federal ridings in Alberta itself.  Docherty predicts that 28-30 of Alberta’s 34 seats will remain Conservative, with Edmonton potentially going NDP and parts of Calgary turning Liberal.  An important test will be whether Notley can maintain a small budget deficit, as this could prove that an NDP government can be fiscally responsible, thus benefiting the federal NDP.  However, much depends on the price of oil.

On the topic of oil, the NDP is focused on its election platform that called for a royalty review, a plan for carbon emissions and commitments to education.  The party seems willing to sit and discuss issues beyond those in their platform with the oil and gas sector.  Notley fully understands the importance of energy to Alberta’s economy.