Pro-abortion New Democrats surge to majority in Alberta, Wildrose makes big gains

Alberta's NDP have complained that abortions are not accessible enough.
Fri May 8, 2015 - 11:18 am EST
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Alberta Premier-designate Rachel Notley

EDMONTON, Alberta, May 6, 2015 ( -- A peaceful revolution of sorts has knocked the Progressive Conservatives from government in Alberta and replaced them with the left wing New Democratic Party.

The NDP gained a clear majority of 53 seats, making Rachel Notley, a union negotiator, the province’s first NDP premier. Aside from two elections in the 1980s when it won 16 seats both times, the party has never taken more than four before Tuesday’s general election.

The PCs, who ruled the province with majority governments for 44 years and won 61 seats in 2012, fell to an abysmal 10. Leader Jim Prentice, hailed as a savior when chosen leader last year, immediately announced his resignation as both leader and MLA.

Albertans elected 17 members of the social conservative Wildrose Party in 2012, only to see all but four defect in stages to the PCs. They returned 21 Wildrose candidates this time, making them the official opposition party again and symbolically rebuking the defectors.

The campaign ended up focused on Prentice’s budget, with Rachel Notley’s attractive personality and masterful performance in the televised leaders’ debate proving a decisive factor.

The leading social issue over the past two years, the promotion of sexual minorities in the public schools through gay-straight alliances, which provided the wedge that split the Wildrose caucus, never emerged at all during the election.

“I guess all the parties agree now,” commented Julius Yankowski, president of Campaign Life Coalition Alberta and former MLA for Edmonton. “They are all for everything—gay straight alliances, same-sex ‘marriage’, and abortion.”

Notley is on the record supporting the proposal floated in March to include in the Alberta Human Rights Act protection for people with a gender identity differing from their real gender, calling it “a long-overdue acknowledgement… of the evolution of diverse perspectives on issues of gender and sexuality.”

Notley and her fellow caucus members supported the requirement, debated last year, that all schools including Catholic and other religious schools, accept Gay Straight Alliance clubs. Back in 2012 they backed Bill 2, which would have required all schools and even homeschoolers to “respect diversity” –whatever that might come to mean. This raised the potential that private discussions in the home about sexual morality would become subject to human rights complaints and adjudication.

The NDP are staunchly pro-abortion, but, as one pro-life leader commented anonymously, “It would be difficult to make it easier to get, unless they're prepared to force docs in small communities to perform them or fly docs in to do them.”

This has not been specifically proposed, but in 2010 the NDP issued a report complaining that abortions were not performed in enough communities, forcing women to drive for several hours to get them, and that not enough doctors were trained to do them (because they didn’t want to do them, presumably, the training being optional). This raises the possibility the NDP would set up clinics or hire abortionists for outlying communities. Notley said at that time, “This is a women's health issue and it's very frustrating. It's somehow underground and not openly talked about.”

Yankowski said the election result does not indicate support for classic NDP objectives but a rejection of the Progressive Conservatives. “They just started caving in under Alison Redford,” the Tory premier who was forced by scandals to resign in 2012 after two years in office. “And Prentice made mistake after mistake.” The most serious mistake was an unpopular budget released this spring, which raised numerous taxes on ordinary people, alienating small “c” conservatives, but refusing to raise taxes on the energy sector, angering “the working stiff.”

Those abandoning the Tories clearly preferred the NDP to the Wildrose because the latter appeared to be collapsing and until a month ago, leaderless, while the NDP had Rachel Notley. Notley’s winning personality was an important factor, said Yankowski. “Even I thought she did a very good job in the leaders’ debate,” he joked. There she held her ground against constant attack from Prentice, “who just looked mean.”

“Notley seems to be a very nice person,” said Yankowski. “She could be approachable,” by prolifers, although he fears her caucus, 80 percent of whom are women, are staunchly pro-abortion.

Judy Hove, a veteran United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) nurse and union member, also describes Notley, a UNA negotiator before becoming leader, as “a really nice person, kind, soft. She ran a good-spirited campaign, not like Prentice’s ‘woe to us all’ approach,” designed to frighten Albertans with warnings of a coming recession to justify raising taxes and keeping out the NDP. “She’s a breath of fresh air.”

“The voters just thought it was time for a change,” offered University of Calgary political scientist Tim Flanagan. The Progressive Conservatives had been in power for 44 years and people were tired of them, in his view. They might have been turfed out in the 2012 election by Wildrose, but the party tanked in the last few days of the campaign. The accepted view among the media and Wildrose leadership was the drop came in large part because then-leader Danielle Smith stood by a Christian candidate after his negative comments on homosexuality were dug up from an old blog.

Wildrose wariness of a repeat performance was strikingly evident. When a potential Wildrose candidate in Calgary was discovered to have blogged in a critical fashion about homosexual advocacy, the party summarily disqualified him. As well, in his election night speech a relieved newly-elected leader Brian Jean congratulated all his candidates “for not screwing up.”

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Wildrose was nonetheless founded by Christian social conservatives such as Link Byfield, who died in January of cancer, having lived just long enough to see Smith lead seven other members across the floor to the Tories, in order, so she said, to make sure the NDP were kept from government.

But Tory constituency members refused to nominate the defectors as their candidates, while Wildrose supporters returned even more members than in 2012, grabbing disaffected PC voters with a nearly content-less campaign. Its one plank: no tax increase.

Paul Bunner, a former speech writer for both the federal Conservatives and Wildrose, explains the Tory defeat in three ways: “First, they’d been in power for 44 years; second, the budget; and third, ‘the politics of envy.’”

“The budget was a huge tactical blunder,” said Bunner, because “it raised 59 taxes” on the middle class to address the growing deficit, but it “broke faith with small ‘c’ conservatives” by not reducing government spending. If it had reduced the size of government, Bunner believes, and not raised taxes, the Progressive Conservative Party stood a good chance of winning over Wildrose supporters.

But Bunner believes that Notley, by promising to tax the oil industry and the rich in general, tapped into “the politics of envy,” which Bunner sees the NDP and Liberals exploiting at the federal level too. “The centre left across Canada and the U.S. is stoking the income equality narrative.”

Notley probably won over some fiscal conservatives by promising to balance the budget by 2018, and others by vowing to increase energy royalties (at a time when profits in the energy sector are disappearing), to tax the rich more, to tax corporations more and to diversify the energy–dependent economy. And, apparently, to be very nice.

In her victory speech she offered condolences to Brian Jean, whose son recently died, praised Prentice for his “outstanding” service to Alberta, not only as a politician but, significantly, as a businessman.

Notley also promised to be a good partner to the business community, and to treat every Albertan with respect. She even invoked what she said were the province’s shared values of hard work, entrepreneurialism and community, rather than union militancy or class warfare of the NDP’s union wing. With touching graciousness she also reminded her audience of her father Grant, who won universal respect for his tireless efforts as NDP leader in the 1970s, though never many votes. Notley died tragically in a plane crash in 1984.

The Wildrose’s Jean was conciliatory too, promising to “work with” Notley and the new government, but also to lead a strong opposition. He praised the party’s supporters for re-electing Wildrose members in bigger numbers.

Neither he nor Prentice spoke of the obvious pressure on their two parties to merge. “Maybe this time,” said Yankowski, “They will be crossing the floor in the opposite direction.” Far from a spent force by the numbers, the PCs got a bigger share of the popular vote than Wildrose, and have $1.6 million in a controversial slush fund. Added Prof. Flanagan, “It may take 10 years,” but in some way the anti-NDP majority will likely combine behind one party of the right just as they have in the other western provinces of Canada.”

Left out in the cold in all this were the moral issues that lay behind the Wildrose Party’s founding, as the three main parties drove relentlessly for the middle ground.

  abortion, alberta, new democrats, rachel notley

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