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Rachel Notley’s NDP made gains in urban areas, but not enough to stop the United Conservatives from getting a slimmed-down majority. Here’s what that could mean for Albertans on climate policy, the economy and more

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United Conservative Leader Danielle Smith makes her victory speech in Calgary on May 29 after a polarizing and close-fought provincial election.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta election: Main takeaways

  • Danielle Smith hung on as Alberta’s premier in Monday’s election, but with a diminished majority for her United Conservatives: 49 out of 87 seats. The defeat of several cabinet ministers, the likely ouster of one MLA from the UCP caucus and the election of right-wing candidates backed by Take Back Alberta all raise the prospect of new ideological frictions to come within the party.
  • In her victory speech, Ms. Smith took shots at the Prime Minister for his long-proposed emissions caps for the oil-and-gas sector, warning him not to “strain the patience and goodwill of Albertans.” But on Tuesday, the Trudeau government played down the potential rift. “I am confident we will able to work out our differences with them,” said Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault.
  • Rachel Notley vowed to continue as leader of the New Democrats as it forms the largest official opposition in Alberta history, winning 38 seats on Monday. “The unprecedented growth of our party through this campaign is a warm light, one that gives me so much optimism for the work to come,” Ms. Notley said.

Map of Alberta election results

Albertans voted on Monday to elect 87 MLAs, with 44 or more needed for a party to form a majority. By early Tuesday, Danielle Smith’s United Conservatives had 49 – the slimmest majority in Alberta history – down from 60 at dissolution. One of the 49 is a candidate Ms. Smith said will not be permitted to sit with the UCP caucus.

Rachel Notley’s New Democrats won 38 seats, up from 23. With 44 per cent of the legislature, that makes it the strongest opposition party Alberta has ever had.

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Battleground ridings and voter turnout

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Voters line up to cast their ballots on election day in Calgary.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Orange zest in Calgary and Edmonton

Rural Alberta’s ridings remained solidly blue on Tuesday, but the NDP made gains in urban areas and unseated several of Ms. Smith’s cabinet ministers. These included former health minister Jason Copping (Calgary-Varsity), former mental health and addiction minister Nicholas Milliken (Calgary-Currie) and deputy premier Kaycee Madu (Edmonton South West). The UCP cabinet ministers who retained their seats include Adriana LaGrange (education), Rebecca Schulz (municipal affairs), Nate Horner (agriculture), Rick Wilson (Indigenous relations) and Nathan Neudorf (infrastructure).

The NDP dominated in Edmonton, a city in which they won all but one seat in 2019. The three Calgary NDP incumbents – Kathleen Ganley, Irfan Sabir and Joe Ceci – were all re-elected, as were stalwarts Sarah Hoffman, Shannon Phillips and Heather Sweet.

Jennifer Johnson was the winning UCP candidate in Lacombe-Ponoka, but her future wasn’t clear. Ms. Smith had said Ms. Johnson would not be permitted to sit with the UCP caucus after an audio recording surfaced of her making hateful comments about transgender children.


Roughly 1.7 million people cast ballots in the election, according to Elections Alberta’s preliminary results, with voter turnout dropping to 62 per cent compared with 67.5 per cent in 2019.

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The fire factor

The campaign coincided with Alberta’s worst recorded wildfire season, in which hundreds of blazes have burned more than a million hectares so far this year. On election day, there were 60 active wildfires, most classified as under control or being held. Elections Alberta made new arrangements for thousands of displaced voters: It set up mobile voting stations at evacuation centres, as well as alternative polling places for fire-affected First Nations and communities such as Drayton Valley and Chipewyan Lake. Ms. Smith, Ms. Notley and several candidates from their parties suspended campaign events in early May after the Premier declared a provincial state of emergency.

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What did the United Conservatives promise that Danielle Smith must now deliver?

This was the UCP’s first general election since Ms. Smith became leader last fall, when she rode a wave of discontent at the federal government, COVID-19 policies and her predecessor, Jason Kenney.

Her initial months as premier brought polarizing debate about her past remarks on vaccines and mainstream medicine, and uncertainty about whether she would use a controversial autonomy law to challenge Ottawa on climate and energy policy. Now, she has won four years to continue what she has started.

Climate and energy

Under Mr. Kenney, the UCP bet big on hydrogen as the future of Alberta energy, and the 2021 Hydrogen Roadmap figured prominently in Ms. Smith’s job-creation platform. But making hydrogen fuel for global markets would still involve burning a lot of Alberta gas, hence the plan’s emphasis on carbon capture and storage – a costly technology whose effectiveness at scale is disputed by climate scientists.

The federal Liberals, meanwhile, have an interim “just transition” plan to shift energy jobs from unsustainable sources to sustainable ones; Ms. Smith opposes it, and has called it an “unconstitutional and existential threat” to the provincial economy. Ms. Smith and Ottawa are also at odds about how fast to decarbonize the electrical grid: The federal goal is net zero emissions by 2035, but the UCP wants to stretch that to 2050, arguing that the costs of transitioning sooner are too high.

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The Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary in 2020, when the pandemic put the Alberta health-care system under serious strain.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Health care

The state of Alberta’s understaffed hospitals was one of the hottest issues on the campaign trail, where Ms. Smith promised Albertans that the UCP would uphold the public-health system if elected. She said a UCP government would not delist any medical services or prescriptions currently covered by provincial health insurance, and would not make Albertans pay out of pocket to see family doctors.

Taxation and jobs

Albertans of all incomes can expect income-tax cuts under the UCP plan: A 20-per-cent reduction in the total bill for people earning less than $60,000 annually, and savings of $760 per year for those earning more than $60,000. The current reprieve from fuel taxes would be extended to Dec. 31. The UCP has promised a Graduate Retention Tax Credit, offering $3,000 to $10,000 per person to entice students in “qualified high-demand professions” to stay in Alberta. Another tax credit would give workers $1,200 signing bonuses in fields such as trades and child care where Alberta has labour shortages to fill.

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What’s next for Rachel Notley and the NDP?

The NDP’s performance on Monday was its best-ever in terms of total votes, and second-best in terms of seats, after the 2015 “orange wave” that brought Ms. Notley to the premiership. That 2015 win was made possible by vote-splitting between the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties, so defeating the UCP (a merger of both that won comfortably in 2019) was always going to be an uphill battle. Ms. Notley tried to win over conservative voters by de-emphasizing her carbon-pricing policies and emphasizing health-care reforms and cost-of-living relief. That wasn’t enough to unseat Ms. Smith, but Ms. Notley was upbeat about the results and said the NDP would press on under her leadership:

Where we fell short, the responsibility rests entirely with me. But I do know that we ran a strong, principled campaign and it was based on our beliefs and our desire to create a better future for all Albertans. ...
Now is not the time to let up. Now is the time to step up, to do the work that has been asked of us. It is my honour to serve as your leader and it is my privilege to continue to serve as leader of the Official Opposition.

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Reaction so far

Federal party leaders

Provincial premiers

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The Decibel podcast

Reporter and columnist Kelly Cryderman explains the new political dynamic in Alberta, and what it means for the rest of Canada. Subscribe for more episodes.

More election analysis

Gary Mason: The country (and Alberta) should brace for what Premier Danielle Smith has in store

Jen Gerson: With Danielle Smith’s win, the Wildrose Party has firm control of Alberta

Anthony Pizzino: With Alberta election over, Danielle Smith must formally toss out her provincial pension plan idea

Chris Turner: Danielle Smith is indifferent to the climate crisis. She’s selling an alternate reality to Albertans

Compiled by Evan Annett and Abigale Subdhan

With reports from Alanna Smith, Carrie Tait and The Canadian Press

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