Rachel Notley’s dramatic triumph over Alberta’s Conservative regime was an early rumble before the Trudeau landslide. Alberta has long been seen as politically paralyzed. But it has always been a cauldron of discontent, producing the Reform Party, the Wildrose movement, the modern Conservative Party of Canada, and Stephen Harper. Notley Nation tells how this pent-up energy exploded in an unexpected direction with Rachel Notley’s NDP victory. Stereotypes of redneck Alberta have long been at odds with the province’s growing progressive streak. The political upheaval that swept conservatism out of office in 2015 had shown its first tremors there five years earlier.
Progressive mayors were elected in Calgary and Edmonton, and soon it became clear that the province’s PC government was falling out of touch with modern Alberta.
Political journalists Sydney Sharpe and Don Braid explore how the Alberta NDP ended a forty-three-year Conservative dynasty that proved incapable of adapting to forces beyond its control or understanding. That wave would soon spread across the country, sweeping Justin Trudeau into office.
About the Authors
Sydney Sharpe is a journalist, anthropologist, and author or co-author of eight books, including The Gilded Ghetto: Women and Political Power in Canada. She was a senior columnist for the Calgary Herald and Calgary Bureau Chief for the Financial Post, and has written for numerous magazines and newspapers and anthologies. She lives in Calgary.
Don Braid has been a political reporter and columnist for more than forty years in Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary. He has written about every Alberta and federal government since Peter Lougheed and the original Trudeau. With Sydney Sharpe he co-wrote two previous books on politics. Don lives in Calgary.
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Notley Nation inspired Gillian Stewart to write this column published by the Toronto Star on November 1, 2016
Women eagerly reshaping government in Alberta
Premier Rachel Notley’s government is establishing a new standard by having an equal number of cabinet ministers
The U.S is on the verge of electing its first woman president. An important milestone for sure.
But does it really matter if a woman holds the highest office and yet has mostly male colleagues, cabinet members, and in Canada, caucus members? What if she has an equal number of women and men in those positions?
A new book — Notley Nation: How Alberta’s Political Upheaval Swept the Country — details how this makes a huge difference. That only when a woman leader, such as NDP Premier Rachel Notley, has as many women as men to work with does the political culture change to accommodate women and the issues that are important to them.
When Notley was elected Alberta premier in May 2015 she brought along with her a caucus that was 47 per cent female, the highest percentage of women in Canadian history, write veteran journalists Sydney Sharpe and Don Braid. Notley soon went on to establish another first by appointing an equal number of women and men to her cabinet.
The high number of women NDP candidates who found themselves sitting in the legislature after the election — on the government side — didn’t happen by accident. Notley actively recruited women candidates.
I took ownership. We did intentionally do a few things differently to make sure we had more women candidates,” Notley told Sharpe and Braid.
Notley has since expanded her cabinet from 12 to 19. With Notley at the table, women are in the majority.
And it’s not a matter of a women premier and female underlings who don’t hold much sway. Women hold high profile cabinet positions — Sarah Hoffman is deputy premier and health minister, Marg McCuaig Boyd is energy minister, Shannon Phillips is environment minister and responsible for the controversial Climate Change Action Plan, Kathleen Ganley is justice minister.
Justin Trudeau followed suit when he became prime minister and appointed an equal number of men and women to cabinet. But he doesn’t have such a high percentage of female caucus members as Notley does.
The presence of so many women with power has shaken the Alberta legislature building to the rafters.
The strong female influence in her caucus quickly changed the tone and substance at the very core of government,” Sharpe and Braid write. “Many more women were hired for political roles. Ministers breezing by in legislature hallways often trail an all-female team behind … The legislature rings with declarations of female pride; for the first time, International Women’s Day in 2016 was treated as a major event.
NDP MLAs put forward a private members bill that allows women to break lease agreements if they are in danger of violent abuse. It was passed unanimously and is now law. One NDP MLA spoke publicly about her own domestic abuse ordeals. Another about having an abortion. Two cabinet ministers have given birth since being appointed.
And in case you haven’t noticed, Alberta is now taking a completely different tack when it comes to federal-provincial relations and relations with other provinces. No longer the stand-alone holdout, the difficult to get along with member of confederation. With Notley, Alberta has become more collaborative; she and Justin Trudeau simply couldn’t be chummier.
Women’s governing styles tends to be collaborative. Men are more competitive and combative. Notley herself was a labour lawyer before she got into politics. So she knows a thing or two about how to negotiate for the best possible outcome.
Notley is not the first female leader of an Alberta political party. The PCs, the Liberals, the Wildrose, and the 1990s NDP have all had female leaders. PC Alison Redford was Alberta’s first woman premier. She faced Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose, the official opposition.
But neither Redford nor Smith had many women in their caucuses and it was caucus revolts that led to their eventual downfall. Even now, only three of the 33 opposition seats in the legislature are occupied by women. A stark contrast to the government side of the legislature, especially the front bench.
No question, Alberta is setting the stage for a new normal when it comes to women in politics.
Gillian Steward is a Calgary writer, columnist for the Toronto Star and former managing editor of the Calgary Herald. She lives in Calgary where she also teaches journalism and communications at Mount Royal University. Her column in the Toronto Star appears every other week. firstname.lastname@example.org