Alberta, the morning after

I’m as pleased about what happened last night as anyone, but it must be said that the weeks and months ahead will not be easy. While being optimistic and hopeful, we should be mindful of what happened in Ontario between 1990-1995 – shades of which have already been repeated in mid-campaign salvos by members of Alberta’s business community and all of its leading newspapers.

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If oil prices continue to fall, it will doubtless be said that the NDP’s minimum wage and tax policies are to blame; the business community will call for austerity and try to force the government to make cuts and freeze public sector salaries. I’m afraid we can probably look forward to every divide and conquer trick in the book, particularly once the PC and Wildrose parties have successfully dusted themselves off.

One trump card held by the new government is that the province’s principle resource is buried deep in the ground – the oil industry, unlike others, can’t simply withdraw investment because it doesn’t like who won the election. But it certainly can (and almost certainly will) make trouble, particularly if the NDP’s promised review of royalties doesn’t turn out favourably.

Despite these notes of caution, it must also be said that Alberta’s unthinkable election result opens up a new and exciting realm of possibilities: One of the economic heartlands of Canada, and the spiritual home of Harperism, has just elected a majority social democratic government (Harper’s own riding of Calgary Southwest is now represented by an NDP MLA) committed to raising the minimum wage, corporate taxes, and those on high earners. In what could prove a hammer blow to Alberta’s patrimonial style of politics, the NDP has also pledged to eliminate corporate (and union) donations to political parties meaning that the province’s plutocrats will have to walk into the legislature through the front door like everybody else.

Congratulations for achieving the impossible, Premier Notley. Now comes the hard part.

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