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The key lesson of the Alberta election is that voting matters

Written by Think Forward Staff
Thursday, 28 May 2015

It's been nearly four weeks since Alberta voters did the unthinkable by electing a progressive government that has vowed to raise the province's minimum wage to $15 per hour, increase corporate income taxes, invest in education and health care, and make Alberta a climate leader within Canada.

The election outcome came as a shock to many since Alberta has long been considered the country's most right-wing province, as prior to their defeat this month, the Conservative Party governed Alberta for 44 years.

And yet, remarkably, Rachel Notely and the centre-left Alberta NDP managed to win 40 per cent of the vote and 54 seats in the election – including all of the seats in Edmonton – while Jim Prentice and the Conservatives lost 58 of the 70 seats they held before the writ was dropped.

Most of the mainstream media has tried to rationalize the New Democrats' historic breakthrough as the inevitable result of voters protesting more than four decades of Conservative rule, while dismissing the possibility that Albertans actually want their government to invest in the province's future. Other pundits have concluded that the Conservatives did not lose the election because of their unattractive policies and incompetence in government, but rather because Jim Prentice called the election too early.

Now the media is obsessively focusing on the "inexperience" of Notley and her caucus, with the clear implication that, in a few months time, voters will regret their decision to elect a progressive government.

These analyses not only demonstrate the corporate media's well-known bias against leftwing political parties and governments, they also ignore the most important lesson of the Alberta election: voting matters, a lot.

At the beginning of April, when the election was called, the Alberta Conservatives were leading in public opinion polls with over 31 percent support, while the New Democrats were trailing in third place at 19.5 percent. It appeared as though the government was on track to win another mandate.

When the NDP started to gain ground on both the Conservatives and the Wild Rose Party, several pundits claimed the New Democrats would not be able to win enough seats in Calgary and the province's rural areas to form a government, and Jim Prentice confidently stated that Alberta is "not an NDP province."

After a strong performance by Rachel Notley in the leaders' debate, the New Democrats began leading in multiple post-debate opinion polls, and by April 30th declared the party was polling in first place "beyond a reasonable doubt." 

Despite a clear shift in popular support towards the NDP by month's end, a number of commentators continued to express doubt that Albertans would actually elect a New Democratic government, and both the national media and the province's major newspapers encouraged voters to support the Conservatives, regardless of their fiscal mismanagement and corruption while in office. Some tar sands companies also asked their employees to vote for any party besides the Alberta NDP.

But a majority of Albertans stuck to their guns and voted for the parties they wanted to support - including the Wild Rose and Liberal parties - instead of the one that they were told to support. With forty years of history stacked against them, and in the face of intense pressure from the media and corporations to vote for the Conservatives, voters opted for hope, ideas and optimism over fear-mongering and supporting the status quo.

Albertans showed that even in our highly flawed, first-past-the-post electoral system, voting still matters, and the outcome of an election is never certain until all of the votes are counted. And that's an encouraging lesson for all Canadians.



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