Shocker in Alberta

As we prepare for a close and perhaps inconclusive British general election tomorrow, some strange if not completely unanticipated news comes down from the western Canadian province of Alberta, which has been governed by the conservative Tories (the colloquial name for the Progressive Conservative Party–which at the federal level is now called just the Conservative Party) for 43 consecutive years. In part because of defections to the right-wing splitoff Wildrose Party, the Tories were swept out of office by the labor-oriented New Democratic Party, led by Rachel Notley. In fact, the Tories fell into third place in provincial legislative seats, making Wildrose the official opposition party (the centrist Liberals, who have been marginalized in the province for a good while, are the fourth largest party).

In some respects the developments in Alberta echo the dynamics of energy producing jurisdictions in the U.S. Falling oil prices created a fiscal crisis, and the governing Tories responded with a combination of unpopular tax increases and spending cuts, with Wildrose benefiting from the former and NDP from the latter. While most observers expected a close three-race race, NDP’s clear-cut win was indeed a surprise. NDP has been on something of an upsurge lately; in the last federal elections in displaced the Liberals as the official opposition party. It also is the governing party in Manitoba.

Don’t let the terminology fool you, BTW. “New Democrats” in Canada are like lefty “populists” in the U.S.; they are, among other things, the vehicle for the Canadian labor movement. The Liberals are more like what used to be called “New Democrats” in the U.S. But that’s before you get into differences on cultural and regional and foreign policy issues.

For the moment, all that matters is a big win for the left in an unlikely locale.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.