EDMONTON — The NDP has won its first majority government in Alberta by toppling the Progressive Conservative colossus that has dominated the province for decades and driving leader Jim Prentice from public life.
The New Democrats, under leader Rachel Notley, swept all 19 constituencies in Edmonton on Tuesday and made significant inroads in previously barren NDP territory in Calgary, Lethbridge and rural Alberta.
“Friends, I believe that change has finally come to Alberta,” Notley, told cheering supporters who changed “Rachel! Rachel! Rachel!”
“New people, new ideas and a fresh start for our great province.”
The Wildrose party took second place and will form the official Opposition, while Prentice and his battered PCs had to settle for third.
It was a crushing defeat for the Tories, who had steered the ship of state since 1971 — longer than any party anywhere in the country.
Prentice told subdued supporters in Calgary that he was stepping down as leader effective immediately and would also leave the Calgary Foothills seat he just recaptured.
“As leader of the party, I accept responsibility for tonight’s outcome. I also accept responsibility for the decisions that led up to this evening,” he said.
“Clearly … my contribution to public life is at an end. It is time for me to dedicate my time to other responsibilities I have as a husband, and as a father and a grandfather.”
Prentice called the election on a budget to reform the way Alberta taxes, spends and saves.
“Albertans needed to make those choices, those decisions, and they have now done so and chosen our collective future,” he said.
“And while I’m personally saddened by the decision, the voters are always right in our democracy.
“I congratulate Rachel Notley and the NDP party on their success this evening. Rachel obviously ran an excellent campaign and clearly has the confidence of Albertans.”
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, Liberal Leader David Swann and the Alberta Party’s Greg Clark were also elected.
The NDP win is a tectonic shift in Alberta politics, which has seen government change hands only four times since the Liberals won the first election when Alberta became a province in 1905.
Notley had momentum since the leaders debate that most pundits said she won and the victory is a vindication of the pioneering efforts of her father, Grant Notley. He helped found Alberta’s NDP and kept the movement alive as the sole NDP member of the legislature in the 1970s.
He died in a plane crash in northern Alberta in 1984, two years before his party made its first big breakthrough in 1986 and became official Opposition.
The NDP had never come close to power in Alberta. Its previous high-water mark was 16 seats and almost 30 per cent of the popular vote in 1986.
It’s the second defeat for Prentice at the hands of the NDP. He lost to the party in Calgary Mountain View when he ran for the PCs under premier Don Getty in 1986 before going on to a federal career. He would serve as a cabinet minister in several portfolios under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Prentice, the fifth Tory premier since the popular Ralph Klein retired in 2006, is the latest version of Harry Strom, who was premier when the Tories under Peter Lougheed ousted the Social Credit in 1971. The party had held power for 36 years.
The Tories were gunning for a 13th consecutive majority when Prentice dropped the writ on April 7. The election came a year earlier than necessary under Alberta law, but Prentice said it was necessary to gain a mandate to implement his tough budget that proposed sweeping increases in taxes and user fees and cuts in government spending.
He said his goal was to stop Alberta’s heavy reliance on fluctuating oil prices for its revenue.
The campaign was supposed to be a victory lap for Prentice, whose party held 70 of 87 seats at dissolution. The Wildrose and the Liberals were both coming off leadership changes and Notley had only held her job since October.
The campaign didn’t work out that way.
The Opposition Wildrose criticized Prentice for not going far enough with spending cuts and said it would not raise any taxes.
Notley criticized Prentice for going too far with cuts, while sparing corporations from tax increases. Notley said she could balance the books by 2018 through increased taxes on corporations and the wealthy, while still spending more on health and education.
While Prentice urged Albertans to be resilient to weather the storm of low oil prices and job layoffs, Notley was relentlessly upbeat and optimistic during her campaign. She urged Albertans to embrace uncertainty, accept it as a challenge and focus on making life better for families.
It provided a stark choice for voters.