The struggle against Smith continues, and a fight for the heart of the NDP looms

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen Alberta’s election results. Bad news, eh?

There are a few ways to think about this thing.

One bit of analysis I’ve seen online is about how many votes would have had to switch to give the win to the NDP. About 1300, apparently, which by that metric makes 2023 the closest election in Alberta history.

But here’s another metric: 52.5% to 44%. That’s how much the UCP led the Alberta NDP in the popular vote. I think it’s fair to predict that any scenario in which the NDP, through ‘vote efficiency’ magic, achieved a razor-thin one-seat majority in the Legislature despite trailing by eight points in the popular vote would be a nightmare.

On the UCP side, Smith is starting to look pretty secure. A solid win in her pocket will silence the sorts of dissenters who were telling people at the doors to vote for party over leader. It’s folks in the Alberta NDP who have some soul-searching to do.

Campaign staff and party loyalists are already spinning the loss as a partial win. The NDP grew their vote share and their seat count, they point out. They say that these results, while disappointing, show a trend towards a more progressive Alberta and it’s only a matter of time before they win.

But there are many confounding factors that trip up that analysis. Since 2015 the Alberta Liberals and Alberta Party have collapsed. The UCP have been distracted by infighting. Economic conditions in Alberta are depressed by the impact of the pandemic. The province was literally on fire during the election.

I can’t stress enough how favorable the board was for the Alberta NDP this time around. For nearly two straight years they’ve been dominant in the polls. They had more money in the war chest than ever. The incumbent party was pitching inane nonsense that nobody wants—Alberta taking over your pension, Alberta taking over the police, Alberta buying Calgary’s richest men a stadium. And Rachel Notley’s opponent was one of the worst candidates for Premier since Bible Bill, a seedy corporate lobbyist turned anti-vaxx podcast oaf.

In that context, a cozy second-place finish isn’t an almost-win, it’s an embarrassing loss. But the split in interpretations is going to cause some real chaos as the NDP does a post-mortem on its campaign. How are you going to reach consensus when you can’t even agree if your campaign was good or bad?

Should you desire that the Alberta NDP make some changes to its playbook your options are limited, and they’re all a bit frustrating, but some do exist.

Nora Loreto argues on her Substack that resistance through popular movements is possible. And that is true where those movements exist, but, as Loreto admits in her column, they’d have to be built up because Alberta doesn’t have many of them on the left. If this is how you intend to proceed my advice is not to waste your time starting from scratch; find an issues-based third party organization that you agree with, like Climate Justice Edmonton or Moms Stop The Harm, and get involved.

Frequently in the Report we propose that participation with your union is the best way for a worker to flex some power—though it’s worth noting that when it comes to the Alberta NDP, labour is often a moderate voice, not a radical one. Not all of us have the good fortune to have a union gig, but if you do, don’t skip those meetings. And do start pitching in with the political action committee.

There is, finally, the option of working within the democratic structure of the Alberta NDP itself, which is open to the passionate and the patient. I won’t sugarcoat the experience, but the levers of power are there, if you can find a way to maneuver around all the people who don’t want you to touch them.

We always knew there was going to be more work to do after election day no matter how things turned out. Let’s be realistic but not give up hope. There is more to do in this province, and we can still do it.


This is the online version of the Progress Report email newsletter. Don't depend on some social media or search engine algorithm to find this content in the future. Sign up to get updates on the most important local political issues in your inbox every week. If you like what we do at the Progress Report there is also one big way you can support us and that's by becoming a monthly donor. The regular donations of the 500 or so regular monthly donors keeps this small, independent media shop going.