Alberta's largest city all but kicked the NDP from its borders.
Albertans have put faith in Jason Kenney as their economic saviour, giving his United Conservative Party a comfortable majority government and ending the oil-producing province’s brief flirtation with NDP government.
The UCP was leading in 63 of the province’s 87 ridings on Tuesday, with winners in all but four constituencies called, while the NDP was leading in 24. Kenney’s party swept most of the map and dominated Calgary.
Kenney has essentially promised a conservative counter-revolution to repeal various NDP-instituted regulations and taxes, most notably the carbon tax and corporate tax increases. After a bruising stretch of economic doldrums during Rachel Notley’s tenure as premier, Kenney’s party played heavily on Albertans’ nostalgia for boom times—one of his key party catchphrases was “renewing the Alberta advantage,” which hearkened to the 1990s heyday of former premier Ralph Klein.
The UCP went with a simpler slogan in the homestretch—“getting Albertans to work”—which resonated in a province with 6.9-per-cent unemployment, the highest in Canada outside chronically struggling Atlantic Canada, which had been sending thousands of young labourers to Alberta’s oilfields before the sector hit the skids around the time Notley took the premier’s office.
Kenney played up unabashed Alberta pride and stereotypes, with a live country music band at his campaign-night party on Calgary Stampede grounds. And for his victory speech, he rolled up to the stage in the blue Dodge Ram pickup truck that had served as his campaign vehicle.
In his victory speech, Kenney spoke of small business owners barely hanging on, young people unable to put post-secondary degrees to work, and a woman in Medicine Hat who told the UCP leader, tearfully, that her husband had to find work in Ontario and she wanted him back in Alberta.
“To them, we send this message: Help is on the way, and hope is on the horizon,” Kenney said to hundreds of supporters. He promised a government that will be “obsessed” with trying to create “tens of thousands” of jobs through corporate tax cuts and severe cuts to regulations in areas like environmental and labour standards.
Before Tuesday, no government in Alberta history had been ousted after one term; in 2015, the NDP ended 44 straight years of Progressive Conservative power. But the recession and sharp decline in oil prices made a ghastly welcoming gift for Rachel Notley’s rookie team, and her tax increases and deficit budgets weren’t popular in a province where Klein famously declared the fiscal debt eliminated last decade.
In her concession speech, Notley pledged to stay on as opposition leader, breaking with the trend of recently elected premiers in Ontario, B.C. and Quebec stepping down after they lost power. But she remains the most popular element of her party, and deafening screams from her Edmonton supporters Tuesday underlined that. “I will make sure that our vision of Alberta endures, through a vigorous and robust opposition holding government to account and making sure the voices of all Albertans are heard in their legislature,” Notley said.
She hailed her government’s accomplishments, such as halving child poverty, building schools, and introducing a tough climate-change regime. When folks watching at UCP headquarters heard her boast that “our kids are breathing cleaner air,” they replied with cynical boos.
After a polarizing election, such partisan hostility cut both ways. When Notley said she called to congratulate the premier-designate, a woman yelled out: “Kenney’s a bigot!”
Two centrist parties, the Alberta Party and Alberta Liberals, faced complete wipeouts. In a province used to electoral blowouts, Notley’s NDP actually has the largest elected Official Opposition caucus since 32 Liberal MLAs faced Klein.
Over the course of her government’s four years, Notley became a stauncher advocate for new pipelines that would ease Alberta’s oil supply bottlenecks. But those projects were consistently thwarted by legal rulings, regulatory hurdles and what Albertans increasingly believed was indifference—or something more sinister—from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Throughout the campaign, Kenney excoriated Notley for working cooperatively with the Trudeau government on climate policy, or at least for not consistently lashing out at environmental assessment legislation and a proposed oil tanker ban on B.C.’s North Coast that energy companies opposed.
The UCP promised to end the provincial end of what they called the “Notley-Trudeau alliance,” and then steadily attack the other end.
Kenney, a former federal cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, has pledged to confront the Trudeau government in various fronts, challenging the federal carbon tax in court, claiming the environmental assessment bill violates Alberta’s jurisdiction, and declaring that if there’s no progress on the Trans Mountain pipeline his province will hold a referendum to remove the equalisation program from Canada’s constitution.
Along with Saskatchewan and Doug Ford’s Ontario, Alberta now and Prince Edward Island has now said it will not accept Trudeau’s mandatory carbon tax. P.E.I.’s environment minister announced this month that his province “doesn’t require a tax to meet our targets” and so his government will instead be “fighting for Islanders” against one. That’s right: a Liberal provincial government, under P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan, is now siding with conservative premiers in Ontario and Saskatchewan in fighting Trudeau’s federally imposed carbon tax. Trudeau’s carbon tax looks pretty much dead now that most provinces are out!