New Democrats clear away over 40 years of Conservative rule-

Alberta has never really elected a clearly left wing party, but did so yesterday with a vengeance.  Populist yes in the past, e.g, the Social Credit Party, but not a left-wing party.

Voters gave the left wing New Democrats (NDP) a large parliamentary majority (53 out of 87 seats), ousting the Progressive Conservative Party (PC). PC went from 70 seats to just 10. The extra-conservative Wildrose Party went from 5 to 21. PC took control of the government way back in 1971.

The great fall in oil prices created the conditions that led to the big NDP win. The PC government was faced with a huge budget deficit as a result of the price fall. Many Albertans perceived the government’s plans to close the budget gap called for sacrifice from average Albertans while the oil companies and big business would be protected.

Many observers saw the PC’s election campaign as one of “red-baiting” (“oh they are socialists!”) rather than defense of its government policies. This name-calling, effective for many years, did not work this time.

Climate activists are celebrating the fall of the conservatives because of PC’s militant support of the oil companies, the tar sands, and TransCanada. Incoming Premier Rachel Notley is not going to try to push the Keystone XL pipeline on the United States. She might withdraw support for the Northern Gateway pipeline that would savage the wilds of British Columbia and the native’s lands there.

The forthcoming Notley government has pledged to raise the corporate tax rate rather than that of average Albertans. She was been very critical of the royalties, or rather the lack of them, paid by the oil companies. That would include Koch Brothers interests who have a big stake in the tar sands.

The election is bad news for the Republicans in the United States and their effort to promote Keystone as well as their support for right wing Steven Harper’s national Canadian government, which has employed and even innovated on Republican attacks on science and climate change action. Defeated Alberta Premier Jim Prentice was a key supporter of Harper. Harper is from Alberta.  He is elected to the national parliament from an Alberta riding (election district).

Climate change activists have regarded the tar sand pits and extraction as the world’s single most environmental damaging project because production of refined petroleum energy products from tar sands requires a great amount of energy in its own right. The result is a large release of greenhouse gas. Environmentalists bemoan the complete destruction of the taiga forest for tar pits and the water pollution that goes into Canadian rivers that run to Arctic Ocean. Prior to the fall in oil prices, plans and actions were being taken to create many new tar sand pits. They are on hold. The breakeven oil price for tar sands production is about 100/barrel. Shutdown price is maybe $50/barrel.

The new government is in charge of a province that has been made very dependent on oil and natural gas production over time. More of its oil wealth will now be diverted from private enrichment to public purposes, but few expect the NDP to abandon oil production. Notley has said Alberta is an oil economy. She might support a carbon tax, however, and not be favorable to Alberta’s coal industry.

The tar sands won’t be going away unless the price of oil stays below $50 or so a barrel. The NDP’s effect might be mostly on the margins, but change from a large expansion to keeping the status quo is a new assault forgone on the land and atmosphere.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

23 Responses to Alberta election shocker likely good for the environment

  1. Larry K says:

    My hope for Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren.

  2. Yvette says:

    Oh Canada!

    ++ Larry K.

  3. devildoc68 says:

    Hopefully their economy can be turned around in a good way. I have family in Canada and their taxes are out of sight on everything. They have nearly polluted the Columbia beyond use… is not difficult to find signs warning about not eating too much of the fish caught in the upper Columbia. Good luck Canada…maybe you will now have a government ‘for the people’.

  4. Immer Treue says:

    No mention of wolves;

    Something must be wrong.

    • Louise Kane says:

      Immer perhaps not enough time has elapsed to reverse the cull policy? But a good change for sure

      • Immer Treue says:

        A bit of blasphemy here, by to “save” the caribou, unfortunately a wolf cull is probably necessary. HOWEVER, and that is a big however, killing wolves without removing their primary food sources (it ain’t caribou), and closing old road ways used by wolves, gonna take longer than five years, is a big fools errand. Killing wolves without addressing the other variable won’t amount to a hill of beans.

  5. Leslie says:

    Finally, some really good news

  6. WM says:

    Rachel Notley is steeped in socialist doctrine. Doesn’t know shit about business, or what runs an economy. This will be an interesting Province-wide experiment to watch, until maybe things don’t work so well in the new Utopia, and the pendulum swings with an even greater arc than the power play that commandingly put the NDP in power. I hope she and her new Alberta government can pull it off, without upsetting the national government in Toronto too much.

    • skyrim says:

      She knew enough about the business of politics to get elected.
      Hard to tell about the fate of Keystone, but the new government has indicated that it will not actively seek (read: spend Canadian money) on US help in that direction.

      • WM says:

        I think a more accurate reading, because she didn’t get a majority, was that the right/conservatives were too fragmented, and now those interests are considering consolidation, after the fact. Will the NDP be able to make its mark in time, or will new alliances with the Tories and the Wildrose Parties reverse things? Again, could be interesting to watch, as Notley “reaches out to the oilpatch and looks forward to working with them.”

  7. Henry Blake says:

    Yes, increasing taxes in a region deprived of income is not a solution. Under these conditions, a good cleaning of the government house would provide a more functional government actually able to lay down a simple framework for people and industry to work in. In such a future, 2+2 would have to come close to 4.

  8. cj says:

    Now it the time to think and go green. Be a leader here not a follower!

    • Henry Blake says:

      The first thing about going green is to realize that it is not magic. Cutting waste is the one free, but not easy, thing that can be done. Real research in to alternative energy, not U.S. produced ethanol, is a long and difficult road. Smaller and more efficient is good. The one thing bringing these types of things together is traceable transparency in to the reasoning and conclusions reached by others so that all may verify and participate.

  9. Mareks Vilkins says:

    sure, the sky is falling

    The election of the NDP is “completely devastating”, declared financier Rafi Tahmazian of Canoe Financial LP in Calgary, Canada’s oil capital. “The perception from the market based on their comments is they’re extremely dangerous.”

    But analysts say that the market itself that has done the most damage to the Canadian oil industry so far this year. Dozens of major projects in Alberta have been mothballed or delayed and thousands of workers laid off from high-cost tar-sands operations in response to plummeting oil prices.

    With Barack Obama continuing to delay approval of the Keystone pipeline, which is designed to move Alberta bitumen to refineries in the southern US, Harper’s grand ambition to make Canada an “energy superpower” – despite widespread misgivings over the potential cost to the environment – was already foundering by the time of Notley’s ascension.

    • Mareks Vilkins says:

      Meanwhile, ordinary Canadians were reeling from the sheer magnitude of the shift in Alberta, which has placed the country’s most notoriously conservative province, taken for granted as an impregnable redneck kingdom, in the hands of its most progressive regional government. To explain the phenomenon, Toronto-based writer Doug Saunders asked his American Twitter followers to imagine socialist presidential candidate Bernie Saunders “becoming Texas governor by a big majority”.

      • Ida Lupine says:

        Woah, that’s quite a picture to imagine! 🙂

      • Mareks Vilkins says:

        Alberta vs Norway

        Two years ago, Bruce Campbell of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) did a comparison of how Canada (mostly Alberta) and Norway have chosen to manage their oil industries.
        “Norway and Alberta have similar population size, similar production profiles, and similar levels of dependence on petroleum exports and government petro-revenues,” Campbell wrote.
        The big difference is that “in Norway, there was, from the outset, a societal consensus that the government should play the dominant role in the petroleum industry, both as owner and regulator.”
        As a result of that consensus, “the Norwegian government owns 80 per cent of petroleum production, and retains roughly 85 per cent of the net petroleum revenues …”
        In contrast, in Alberta, “virtually the entire industry is owned by foreign and domestic private interests, which have taken the lion’s share of the petroleum wealth.”
        “According to one estimate,” Campbell says, “the Alberta government has averaged just 9 per cent of the economic rent from the oil sands over the last 15 years; and the federal government now takes (after tax breaks) a paltry 7 percent of oil company revenues through the general corporate income tax.”
        Highest inequality in Canada
        Norway’s approach to oil, together with its relatively high progressive income taxes, “has allowed it to maintain one of the lowest levels of income inequality in the world.”
        On the other hand, in Alberta, “inequality is substantially higher than the Canadian average” — which in turn is among the highest among developed countries.
        But while Alberta may have been far more parsimonious than Norway in its social investments, it has been much more profligate with the revenue it has received from oil than have the Norwegians.
        Alberta has its Heritage Savings Fund. Norway has a Petroleum Savings Fund, which, Campbell relates, “amassed over $664 billion in assets, all invested abroad, with only the return used for domestic spending.”
        Alberta’s Fund is anemic by comparison. It now contains a mere $16 billion, just 2 per cent of Norway’s fund.
        The vaunted Heritage Fund, which was put in place by Alberta’s first Progressive Conservative Premier, Peter Lougheed, represents, writes Campbell, a “miniscule share of the petroleum revenue that has flowed into Alberta over the last 36 years.”
        And when it comes to the environment, and in particular global warming, “Norway is a leader in carbon emissions reduction, both at home and internationally. Under the Copenhagen Accord, Norway’s carbon reduction targets are the most ambitious in the industrial world.”
        As for Alberta and the Canadian federal government — well, we know that the federal government had been using the need to harmonize with the U.S. as an excuse for inaction on greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the Harper government has a new story. It says Canada will not even bother trying to keep up with our neighbour to the south.
        At the coming meeting on climate change in Paris, Canada promises to maintain its record as one of the worst laggards on climate change in the world.

  10. WM says:

    An interesting take on “practical Alberta socialists.” This could be a really good thing, as the replacement for the “Father Knows Best” mentality of Premier Prentice and his ties to oil interests, where everybody else got taxed heavily (including farmers who bailed on the Conservatives) while big business enjoyed lowest tax rate protections:

    Also some predictions the NDP might not be so environmentally friendly as some think, as economic reality sets in. From the article, “One of the panel’s suggestions was that by taking a less pro-industry stance, the NDP may actually smooth the way for the oil patch, reducing opposition to pipelines and resource extraction.”

  11. monty says:

    I always felt that “Alberta” was cheap on their contribution to the Glacier/Waterton Lakes international peace parks. Glacier NP is 1 million acres while Waterton is only 66 thousand acres. Maybe they will increase their acreage with more liberal politics.

    • Brett Haverstick says:

      Folks up here in north-central Idaho have been battling the “megaloads” for 4 years now and thanks to a federal court victory over a year ago, they are no longer seeking permits to drag their massive oil equipment up the Wild & Scenic Lochsa River!


May 2015


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey