Alberta’s next provincial election is set for May 2023, about six months from now. Recent polls have indicated that it’s anybody’s race, with Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party and Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party nearly neck and neck. In my opinion this is a surprising change from Alberta’s past political history, one that might lead to an even bigger change in Alberta than almost anyone realizes.
As I’ve written before (‘Don’t expect a comeback’, St. Albert Gazette, April 12, 2017) no political party that’s lost power in Alberta has ever gotten it back. The Liberals reigned from 1905 to 1921, the United Farmers of Alberta reigned from 1921 to 1935, the Social Credit party reigned from 1935 to 1971, and the old Progressive Conservatives reigned from 1971 until 2015. In every case, the incumbent party won multiple elections until they were replaced. The new party following the same pattern, and the old ones eventually died out.
The NDP broke that pattern in 2015. They lasted only one term in office before Jason Kenney and the United Conservatives replaced them in 2019. Despite that, there’s every chance the NDP could return to power in May 2023. If that happens, Notley and the NDP would make political history as the first premier and party to ever regain power in Alberta after losing it. Even if they do, the UCP would still form a potent opposition. The same thing would apply if the UCP wins another election, albeit with the NDP forming the potent opposition.
This would lead to the bigger change I mentioned before. In recent years, the other Western Canadian provinces have regularly had their NDP parties rotate in and out of power with a right-wing rival, as they trade places on their legislatures’ government and opposition benches. In B.C., that right-wing rival was the Social Credit party and then the B.C. Liberals, soon to be renamed as ‘B.C. United’. In Saskatchewan, it was the Progressive Conservatives and then the Saskatchewan Party. In Manitoba, it’s been the Progressive Conservatives. In every case, the NDP has been their main competition, governing their provinces whenever they’re in Opposition.
Whether the NDP or the UCP win next year’s provincial election, it’s likely that Alberta will follow the same tendency as the rest of the West. Namely, the NDP and the UCP will both be competitive for the foreseeable future, trading places in government and opposition even after Smith and Notley leave politics. This would benefit Alberta’s democracy, keeping the governing party from getting complacent and taking the voters’ support for granted. The whole point of the Parliamentary system Canadian governments operate under is for an opposition to hold the prime minister or premier and their cabinet accountable and criticize their supposed screw-ups. The opposition is also meant to show that it can take over governing if the incumbent party burns out, as the Stephen Harper Conservatives did in 2006 when the Paul Martin Liberals ran out of gas.
No matter who wins the next election, all of Alberta would win under this change.