The art of toppling a political dynasty

Voters in Alberta made history Tuesday night — and they sealed it with an exclamation point. Rachel Notley and her New Democrats secured a majority victory in an election that was supposed to be a stroll in the park for a powerful Progressive Conservative dynasty that had all but swallowed up its opposition in the province.

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Voters in Alberta made history Tuesday night — and they sealed it with an exclamation point.

Rachel Notley and her New Democrats secured a majority victory in an election that was supposed to be a stroll in the park for a powerful Progressive Conservative dynasty that had all but swallowed up its opposition in the province.

Instead, Jim Prentice rolled the dice on an early election and has found his own place in Canadian political lore.

Albertans gave the middle finger to 44 years of unbroken rule and Prentice resigned, both as party leader and MLA, riding sadly into the prairie night.

The former Stephen Harper cabinet minister who was once thought to be a potential Harper successor, is the man who squandered a dynasty with staying power never before seen in this country.

Ultimately, it sputtered and died, succumbing to the twin diseases of entitlement and hubris.

The party sat in third place behind Wildrose, its future very much a question mark.

The scope and depth of this change — one that will be felt across the country and shake expectations in this autumn’s federal election — is difficult to digest.

On a personal level, Notley’s stunning victory carries with it a special poignancy.

She has completed the journey of her father, Grant, who spent years building this party before he was killed in a plane crash more than three decades ago when she was 20.

Grant Notley brought the Alberta NDP to its high water mark of 16 seats — only to have it washed away in futility seven years later when the party was wiped off the map.

Change? Consider, Alberta had elected only two governments in 80 years.

Consider, the majority of the province had never lived under anything but a PC government.

Consider, Notley was speaking to crowds that could be counted on the fingers of both hands just a few years ago, in ridings that she won on Tuesday.

Consider, she almost didn’t enter the NDP leadership race. With two children still at home, she was considering the time away from them to guide a party that was sitting in single digits in polling.

Peter Lougheed began the long reign of 12 PC majorities in 1971 with a caucus of six.

Notley led a caucus of four into battle with a goal of growing her party, then forming a robust Opposition, then, in the campaign’s final week, trying to cobble together a cabinet in her head.

Canada’s political landscape in recent years has featured so-called political “waves.” They can wash both ways, but they don’t always lead to government.

Ultimately, the question in Alberta came down to change during uncertain times, something Canadian voters have repeatedly rejected, from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island.

But how to make Notley look scary?

Like Jack Layton, she was selling optimism, what she liked to call “hope-mongering.”

She looked authentic, she looked real, she looked like a shot of energy, but most of all she looked like a fresh face, a warm Chinook on a winter day on the Prairie.

She vowed to raise Alberta’s corporate tax rate to 12 per cent from 10 per cent, but that would merely move Alberta into the middle of the Canadian pack of the country’s corporate tax regimes, moving it in line with Ontario and Quebec.

She said she would not waste her time pushing the giant Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to the B.C. coast and she said the Keystone XL pipeline had become a strictly U.S. domestic issue.

She promised a review of energy royalties, something that burned former PC premier Ed Stelmach, who all but reversed increases after it became apparent that a backlash had dried up PC donations and helped give rise to the Wildrose party on his right.

In sum, Prentice said the three measures meant vanishing investment, an exodus of jobs and damage to the free enterprise system which fueled Canada’s economic engine.

Notley, in essence, said Albertans knew better and she dismissed the self-serving shots across the bow from the province’s well-heeled and coddled business community.

Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs columnist.

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