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Leader of the Alberta NDP Rachel Notley at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, Alberta on Tuesday, November 25, 2014.AMBER BRACKEN/The Globe and Mail

Jeffrey Jones talks with new Alberta New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley about her plans to make gains in the traditionally conservative province and her vision for the energy sector.

With the Progressive Conservatives resurgent under Jim Prentice and the Wildrose Party stumbling, how do your New Democrats factor in?

Six months ago, people were saying the Tories were done and the Wildrose were going to be the government. So I wouldn't count the Wildrose out. What I do think is true is that Prentice has signalled that he's taking the party back to the right. Albertans were presented in the last election with this picture of a progressive party. They said, "We're not the Wildrose. You're not going to have to worry about us being a bunch of people who don't respect human rights. We're going to make sure you get the money you need in education and health care." Now they're moving into the Wildrose's territory. So there's room for another party to come in and say, "Look, if you're looking for progressive change, a more modern, forward-looking administration, there's actually a different option," and it's us.

In your leadership run, you said the party must make inroads in Calgary, where it has not traditionally been strong. How can you do that?

We need to be a little bit more intentional about how we approach Calgary. It's not a monolith. All Calgarians are not the same. They're not all wealthy. They don't all work in the oil industry – though a lot of people who do work in the industry believe it can be done better. So we need to be very focused on our approach – continuing to run higher-quality candidates across the city, but perhaps focusing on certain areas and putting more resources in those areas to try to make that breakthrough.

There are now three parties that are ideologically left of the Tories and Wildrose. Is a unite-the-left movement possible?

I really don't think so, because I think the word left, as it stands, is kind of a loaded term. What we're doing is focusing on our own growth. In our last round, we doubled the combined fundraising of the other two parties [Liberals and Alberta Party]. So we are growing and enhancing our capacity, and that's what we're focusing on.

How do you see the balance between energy and environment in Alberta?

We need to focus on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and there are a number of different mechanisms. We need to take into account what's happening in the U.S., and we shouldn't be the kid at the back of the room, quietly hoping no one notices we're there, which is kind of the approach we've taken. That involves developing a renewable energy plan, an energy-efficiency plan and specifically focusing on the tremendous opportunity we have in coal-fired electricity reduction and eventually elimination.

Jim Prentice has made accessing markets for Alberta's oil a top priority. How should the sector develop?

My view of what's happening is Mr. Prentice, and previously Ms. Redford, were simply taking marching orders from the industry, who are focused on maximizing their profits and doing so at the expense of creating jobs in Alberta or Canada. So we need to focus more on [bitumen] upgrading, diversification and long-term job creation. I actually think there's a lot to be gained by working with other provinces. But I just think that right now we're simply acting as an emissary for the oil and gas industry with other provinces, rather than focusing on true nation building.

This interview has been edited and condensed.