A funny thing happened on the way to the coffee shop.
I’m in St Albert, Alberta, right now. It’s where my parents and in-laws live. And earlier today I went to get my hair barbered (because I suspect I won’t be so welcome in my regular barber shop back home). Afterward, my hair tidy and short, I wandered over to a nearby café and noticed a disturbingly large crowd of people holding up NDP signs.
“What’s going on?” I asked a guy who’s long hair and beard were a natural orange. The guy was born to vote NDP.
“She’s been held up,” he replied.
“Rachel Notley!” He clearly hadn’t expected to share this information with anyone and was pleased to be the bearer of such monumental knowledge. “She’ll be here in four minutes.”
Four minutes? It was an awfully precise for ETA for the NDP.
If you’ve been living under a rock lately — which is unlikely considering the housing glut Regina’s facing, right? — you may have missed the news that there’s a provincial election on May 5 in Alberta and the NDP, who are led by Notley, are way ahead in the polls right now.
I’m pretty lucky to be here for this. I lived in Alberta for a big chunk of my life and I’ve never seen the Progressive Conservative dynasty so vulnerable before. And no one ever figured that when they were finally challenged by another party that it’d be the NDP to do the challenging.
Anyway, back to my brush with political celebrity…
I hung around outside the coffee shop and sure enough, in four minutes (I timed it) a car pulled up and Rachel Notley stepped out and greeted an excited throng of supporters.
I followed the crowd into the café and listened to her speak and then took off. It was pretty cool thing to stumble upon. The provincial election here is a Very Big Deal.
And here’s what I learned from the Notley event I accidentally attended:
- These are the most optimistic looking NDP supporters I’ve seen in a very long time. The excitement in the café was palpable. I’ve gotten used to pre-election NDP gatherings that have an air of, “C’mon gang! Let’s make this the BEST third-place finish we’ve ever had!” There was none of that today. These NDP supporters feel like there surfing a big honking wave of change.
- The stories are true, Notley really can work a crowd. She delivered all the usual political platitudes and talking points you expect from a party leader at election time, but she delivered them like a pro.
- Man, the NDP… The person who introduced her began with a, “Sisters and brothers.” It’s the standard greeting at most of the NDP things I’ve been to and I effing HATE it. First, it is just waaaaaay to familiar for me. Look, you’re not my sister and/or brother. I don’t even know you. And I hate your suit. What’s wrong with a, “Hey everybody, here’s Rachel!”? My second issue with it is it just sounds so dopey. More than anything else, the NDP has to knock this off if they want me to take them seriously. *
So, anyway, I was glad to stumble upon this event. Made the election feel more real, you know? Hasn’t changed my impressions of how it’s going to turn out though.
Despite everything, I’m still predicting another Progressive Conservative majority. Here’s why:
- NDP support is huge for Alberta. It’s stunning. But it’s focussed mainly in Edmonton. I expect the NDP will make great strides here but that could be it. Meanwhile, in Calgary, the NDP looks like a strong second choice but I’m expecting their votes will get overwhelmed there. And as for rural Alberta, they’ll NEVER vote NDP.
- There’s a lot of talk about vote splitting on the right but I think that’ll be less of a factor than polls are showing. Albertans vote PC. It’s a thing they do. It’s as natural as eating beef or hanging testicles from your trailer hitch. And they may say to a pollster that they’ll vote Wildrose because they’re grumpy with Prentice. But, faced with a strong NDP, I’m betting most voters will shift back to their traditional pick. Look at the last Alberta election. There was no threat from the NDP and still all that Wildrose support in the polls shifted PC-ward at the last minute.
Of course, I could be wrong about all of this. I have a really poor record for predicting elections. And it’d be nice to see a change in Alberta. All these decades of PC rule have gotten a little samey samey.
* Full disclosure: Yes, I have been to NDP events as a citizen and not just covering them as a reporter. Yes, I was briefly a member of the NDP when I was living in Ottawa. Yes, I’ve voted NDP an awful lot in my lifetime. And yes, I have now, and have had in the past, many friends who are members of the New Democratic party machine. So taking all that into account, feel free to accuse me of being a slavish party hack. I can only defend myself by pointing out that, a.) At least I’m not keeping my political leanings a secret. (You did know I’m a shameless left-winger by now, right?); and, b.) You can take heart from the fact that the favourite pastime of the left is eating our own. There’s nothing we like better than to chow down on one of our grain-fed teammates.