Skip to main content

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks at the Alberta NDP convention in Calgary, Saturday, June 11, 2016.Mike Ridewood/The Canadian Press

Whether they sit on the government benches or with the opposition, Alberta MLAs agree that in just over a year Rachel Notley's New Democrats have been one of the most activist governments in the province's history.

Since the Premier's rookie government tabled its first piece of legislation on June 15, 2015 – upending decades of political financing by banning union and corporate donations – the NDP has passed 33 bills and introduced thousands of pages of new regulations.

By the end of the government's first year in office, it had written hefty legislation at a pace not seen since the Klein Revolution of the early 1990s.

"There's lots of change going on, we're bringing Alberta from the back of the pack in terms of the environment, social and labour issues, to the head," NDP House Leader Brian Mason told The Globe and Mail.

He added with a chuckle, "there may be similarities to what [premier Ralph] Klein did, but we've gone in a very different direction."

Mr. Klein led his Progressive Conservatives on a series of deep cuts, dynamited hospitals and privatized government services, eventually slashing taxes and paying off the provincial debt.

Ms. Notley's break with the past has brought in a torrent of new laws that have left a mark on Alberta. Her party's loudest critics in the Wildrose Party say daily life in the province has changed.

"I can't think of a way in which Alberta hasn't been touched. There's been a move towards an NDP world view," said Nathan Cooper, the House Leader for the Official Opposition.

"There were certainly things that needed to be changed, but whether they needed to be done in a 12-month period is a question," Mr. Cooper said.

On further reflection, he added that Ms. Notley hasn't pushed large-scale justice reform yet.

That might be one of the only areas where she hasn't left a major NDP mark.

In the past year Alberta's flat income tax, one of Mr. Klein's legacies, was ditched and a progressive income tax introduced. Taxes on Albertans making over $300,000 have shot up by 50 per cent. Corporate taxes have also been hiked.

Once-sacred debt rules have been abandoned and the province will begin borrowing for day-to-day operations this year. In the process, the province's formerly pristine credit rating has been downgraded repeatedly.

And on top of that packed agenda, Ms. Notley's government has dealt with one of the most expensive disasters in Canadian history with the wildfire in Fort McMurray.

The formula for oil and gas royalties has also been rewritten. While Ms. Notley campaigned on plans to hike the royalties after arguing for years that oil and gas companies weren't doing their part, her government left the formula largely unchanged – one area where the New Democrats backed away from a clear promise.

Despite howls of protest, labour laws and workers-compensation rules have been extended to hundreds of farms and ranches. Tens of thousands of public servants have been given the right to strike. Strict payday loan rules have been brought in. A new municipal act could see the largest change to city government in a generation. And the government has clarified the rules around assisted dying.

The topic that has come to define Ms. Notley's first year is climate change. Despite little mention of the climate while campaigning to topple a 44-year Tory legacy, the Premier now says that her province has the toughest climate rules in Canada.

As of 2017 the province will have an economy-wide tax on carbon and the size of the oil sands will be capped. A new energy efficiency agency has also been established and billions will be set aside for it to reach into every home, office and factory in the province.

"If you look at the totality of what they've done in one year, if you roll back to the day before the election and look at what has transpired since, it's a different Alberta," said Duane Bratt, the chair of policy studies at Calgary's Mount Royal University.

While some items on Ms. Notley's wish list have been held up by the province's economic woes and exploding deficit – such as a subsidized daycare system – Mr. Bratt wonders whether the party can keep up the pace. "I don't know if they can keep this up; it's been extraordinary," he said.

According to Mr. Mason, the government's goal has been to modernize the province. It's not a rural, conservative place any more, he argues, and the demographics changed years ago.

Instead of running out of steam, Mr. Mason says he's had to hold back ministers. "There's a backlog," he said. "There's lots left to come."

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe