Yesterday I awoke to a flurry of activity on the radio and social media - the Alberta NDP pulled off a spectacular and historic win. Not only did they win a majority government, but they unseated the Progressive Conservatives who have been ruling the province for 43 years. The NDP managed what would have only been unthinkable sixty days ago and the prospects for Alberta and for Canada have changed dramatically.
While it is important to note that the result has been characterised as less a PC loss than an NDP win, I think too much has been made of this argument. Yes, the election was largely a referendum on Jim Prentice, but have we already forgotten that in the previous Alberta election in 2012 that it was the Wild Rose Party that many projected would form a majority government? The truth is that the PCs have been managing to hold it together despite the fact that there was a growing popular sentiment that it was time for a change - though admittedly unsure of where that would go. The 2012 election illustrates that there was a desire to change, but that Albertans would not abandon the PCs without reason (there was too much risk, evidently). The line that the PCs lost this election is important to take into consideration, but it neglects the fact the the NDP and Rachel Notley made an impact on voters and spoke to their desires instead of their fears.
Despite the fact that the crowd at party headquarters reacted negatively when Notley announced that she was looking forward to working with Harper, I have few worries that Edmonton and Ottawa will fail to work in concert. Moreover, I think this plays into the hands of conservatives who attempt to make out the NDP as the antidote to a healthy economy. The NDP will not destroy Alberta's economy (not that the economy was not in serious trouble under PC management). There will be some concrete changes if the NDP follows through with leading platform thrusts like increasing the minimum wage and introducing new income tax brackets. While business leaders will claim that these changes will hurt Alberta industry, it's only a mechanism to ensure that people can benefit more evenly from the province's prosperity.
Given that this is a federal election year, the NDP win will no doubt influence the outcome in October. There impact has already been felt in Ottawa with the federal NDP claiming that the election has shown that Alberta voters can elect a leftist party. Moreover, Justice Minister Peter Mackay commented that caucus was like a “morgue” on Wednesday morning (also commenting that the province was now becoming Albertistan). With Orange Crush cans turning up across the country, there is no doubt that the NDP win is being felt.
However, there is the matter of the NDP tabling a budget in Alberta, something that must happen before summer. This means that Notley will have to demonstrate her capacity to actually run the province, not merely win the election. This includes selecting first priorities, working out the economics of the budget, and nominating a cabinet from a group of novices. This will be a true test: the party managing the day-to-day affairs of Canada's most successful economy in terms of GDP per capita.
Ultimately, I'm not holding my breath. There is a long stretch between now and October. While there aren't many certainties, it would be a safe bet to say that Canadians will be eagerly watching Alberta for the next few months.