Braid: Notley set to announce today she’s leaving NDP leadership, triggering party contest

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley, perhaps Canada’s best known provincial opposition leader, is leaving the role, setting up a party contest to replace her

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Rachel Notley will end months of speculation today by announcing her intention to resign as leader of the Alberta NDP.

“I’m not going to lead the party into the next election,” Notley said in an interview before a news conference to be held in Edmonton. 

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“I will be stepping down as leader once the party chooses a new leader.”

Notley said she hasn’t decided if she’ll stay on as MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona after the new chief is chosen at a party leadership vote some months from now.

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Asked about her plans (maybe an eventual run at the federal NDP leadership?) Notley said “that is pure speculation. We have a leader federally and this is a big job that I’ve had, and I’m not actually looking for a bigger one right now.”

Like many politicians stepping off the stage, she didn’t quite say no.

Notley will leave after serving as an NDP member since 2008 and contesting five elections, including three as party leader. She was premier from 2015-2019.

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The front page of the Calgary Herald on May 6, 2015.

The obvious choice for her greatest achievement is that stunning victory over the Progressive Conservatives that upended a 43-year-old provincial regime.

But Notley says she’s proudest of the party she leaves behind after losing the 2023 election but gaining more seats and the highest provincewide NDP vote ever.

“We have now solidly established a two-party province,” she says. 

“By two-party I don’t mean two different shades of conservative – shades of right and farther right – but rather that we have a progressive choice in the province for the first time in over a century, that has the potential to be government after each election.

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“While I wish I was premier right now, the fact is that I am the leader of a progressive opposition, the largest in the history of the province, one that is very ready to govern.

“What am I most proud of? What’s the legacy of my time as leader? I would argue that is the biggest.”

“When I got elected in 2008, I ran to be a voice much like my dad was for that minority of Albertans who felt that their political views and their personal views and their values were not reflected in their provincial legislature.”

She was referring to her father, Grant Notley, the storied leader of the early NDP who was killed in a plane crash in 1984.

Notley puts the new Calgary Cancer Centre near the top of her list of specific achievements. PC indecision delayed the project for years, but the NDP gave the green light for the Foothills site once they took office.

She also cites the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. “Getting the first pipeline to tidewater in 50 years would not have happened under (Premiers) Kenney or Smith. Albertans were owed that and I’m proud of it.”

“I’m also proud that we phased out coal. We improved people’s health and kick-started the biggest renewable energy investments anywhere on the continent.”

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Some critics are currently saying the loss of coal-fired power is one reason for weekend electricity shortage that nearly caused rolling blackouts.

Notley says the NDP strengthened labour rights, raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and cut child poverty. 

The latter, she said “is not easy to do at the best of times, but it’s particularly hard when you’re in the biggest recession in a generation. I’m very proud that we did that.”

Her biggest failure, she concedes, was the Bill 6 farm safety legislation that intruded on family farming traditions and sparked a rural revolt. 

“While I still believe strongly that it was very important to protect the rights of people who worked on farms – who at the time had no rights – it’s definitely true that it was a big learning experience for me about how you work with people and how you take the time to make sure people understand each other’s perspective. 

“That could have been done better, no question. I think most commentators will say that was the end of the honeymoon that we had as a government. 

“We definitely could have been a little less arrogant about our belief in the rightness of our position.”

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The impact on the NDP was not temporary. It solidified mistrust in many rural areas. 

Arguably, the enduring rural grudge had an impact on the election last May. With a few more rural ridings, and a couple more in Calgary, the NDP would have won.

Notley doesn’t mention the carbon tax she brought in without having mentioned it during the 2015 campaign. That also caused resentment that never went away.

She has competed against three conservative premiers – the late Jim Prentice (PC), whom she defeated, and then Jason Kenney and Danielle Smith (both UCP), who defeated her.

Her view of the current government is harsh.

“I think that the UCP obviously represents a significant threat to the wellbeing of our province and individual Albertans and their families. 

She (Premier Smith) represents a threat in terms of general affordability issues, she represents a very clear and present danger to both our healthcare system as well as the quality of education received by kids across the province. These are things I care about a great deal. 

“She has proven herself profoundly inept on matters with respect to combating climate change and managing, promoting and building our energy industry.

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“And I don’t believe she has stopped her ridiculous campaign to gamble away the pensions that Alberta seniors and all Albertans work very hard for.

“It is incredibly important that Albertans have a strong, competent choice to make as they try to get rid of Danielle Smith. 

“I’m very confident that no matter what the outcome is of our leadership race, that’s what Alberta’s NDP will be able to offer Albertans in the next election.”

Notley jokingly describes herself as “very verbose.” She’ll have plenty more to say before she formally departs as leader of the party she built in her father’s image.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Calgary Herald

X: @DonBraid

 

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