Once upon a time I was very much interested and fascinated by the politics of Canada. But after about 2011, with the Tories firmly ensconced in power and the Quebec independence movement pretty much over with, I had lost interest even with an election coming up in the fall. Boy Trudeau vs. Stephen Harper? Wake me when it's over.
But then a strange thing happened yesterday which made me take notice again. Alberta, ruled for so many years by the Progressive Conservative Party, had a change of government. Not to a new PC leader, but to an entirely new party. In fact, the most unlikely party of all, the left-wing New Democrats. The NDP ruling the most Republican part of Canada, do I hear the sound of hell freezing over?
Indeed it did. For the first time since 1971, a party other than the Tories will rule Alberta. And it won't be a minority government either. NDP has a solid majority of the Legislative Assembly with 54 seats. The PC's have been reduced to a mere 10. They're not even the official opposition. The right-wing Wildrose Party moves into that slot with 21 seats.
A combination of low oil prices, the corruption of one-party rule and a PC government which raised taxes doomed them from the outset of the snap election. Certainly the idea of another party supplanting the PC's wasn't unheard of but most figured it would be Wildrose and certainly not the NDP doing so. But like a lot of Right parties, Wildrose has been unstable from its beginnings (before the election 11 of its members defected to the PCs) and conservatives have to fact a hard truth: Alberta has changed. Sure, many usual PC voters, disgusted with the party, probably voted NDP just to throw the current gang out. But the prosperity of the oil sands boom over the last decade brought in a lot of people who weren't around in 1971 when the PC took advantage of a dying Social Credit movement and became the populist party province against the hated Liberals of the East (who won exactly one seat in the election). And it's brought in a more diverse population as well, which also led to the NDP's rise. to power.
Of course, this isn't the end of the tale either. The province is dangerously polarized like never before. Wildrose dominates the rural areas, the NDP controls the cities like Calgary and Edmonton. Does the NDP lean towards environmentalism in regards to the oil sands or to the workers there and their jobs, remembering its roots as an industrial union party? Will this divide them and create further instability? Will an NPD government create such a backlash that a more ideological PC Party is reborn in the ashes (especially with Wildrose as a competitor for the same votes?) just like in Ontario in the mid to late 1990s? Will an NDP party with no governing experience be able to control a province with MLAs who, as one put it "look like they lost their university student government elections?" Will Wildrose be able to expand its base into the Calgary and Edmonton suburbs or just be another rural protest party, destined to suffer the same fate as many such parties? Whatever happens, things sure got interesting again up North.