It would be a big deal politically, a very big deal, if Texas or Wyoming suddenly veered left and elected a super-progressive state legislature and governor. It would be a bigger deal if the progressives who swept to power did so with a promise to implement a social-democratic agenda of new taxes on corporations and the wealthy to fund healthcare, improve education, maintain public services and protect the environment. It would be an even bigger deal if the new governing party was prepared to implement a $15-an-hour minimum wage and champion labor rights. And if the new leadership said it would stop promoting corporate-sponsored pipeline projects because of concerns for the environment—while promising to “take leadership on the issue of climate change”—that would be remarkable.
Well, all of this just happened in Alberta, the oil-rich province that for decades has been governed by conservatives who were so tied to the oil industry and so deferent to corporate power that they often made George W. Bush and Dick Cheney look populist by comparison.
Alberta’s New Democratic Party swept to a landslide victory in Tuesday’s voting and will, for the first time in history, form the new government for a province sometimes referred to as “the Texas of Canada.” But that does not begin to tell the story of what the NDP accomplished. Before the election, the party held four of the 87 seats in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. After the election, the NDP held 53 of the 87—a gain of 49 seats.
Local factors—corruption scandals associated with the outgoing conservative government, turbulence in the energy industry and growing concern about damage done to the environment by pipeline projects—all shaped a historic result. But nothing did more to steer the province leftward than frustration with what the NDP condemned as “deeper austerity measures and budget cuts.”
The same penchant for balancing budgets by attacking public employees and public services that has been seen in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin and Sam Brownback’s Kansas has been on display in Alberta. And as the election approached, the governing Progressive Conservative party proposed more cuts.
Ripping the conservatives for targeting education and healthcare, Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley positioned herself the NDP as the alternative to austerity cuts. The Alberta NDP’s manifesto called for investments in public services paid for by hiking corporate tax rates, for a review of the royalties oil companies pay to the province with an eye toward assuring that the people get their fair share, and for a ban on corporate contributions to political parties. That willingness to challenge corporate hegemony even extended to criticizing particular pipeline projects.