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NDP supporters cheer as election results come in during festivities at the election headquarters in Edmonton May 5, 2015.Dan Riedlhuber

It was an announcement many of them never thought they would hear in their lifetimes: NDP majority government. Within seconds, the orange-clad crowd gathered in this city showed that a room full of Albertans knows how to roar.

Nearly three decades after their first breakthrough in Alberta, the province's New Democrats had waited nervously to see if the time had finally come when they would form government. Many were awe-struck with the size of their victory after decades of Progressive Conservative rule.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley fought back tears on Tuesday morning as she acknowledged her party was on the verge of an unprecedented victory.

"When Alberta changes its mind, it does so in a dramatic way," said Della Dennis, celebrating with her friends. "I thought that Rachel had the chops, but I'm still blown away."

Ms. Notley, an affable rookie leader who spent the 28-day campaign promising Albertans to deliver hope over fear, was the NDP's not-so-secret weapon on the trail.

"She was powerful out there and she connected with people in a real way," campaign director Gerry Scott said. The fifth party to govern in the province's history, the NDP has promised to reconsider many of the sacred cows that have been untouchable for decades. "It'll be exciting, it's certainly uncharted territory," deputy campaign director Brian Stokes said of the NDP win.

While she is a new leader in Alberta's legislature, Ms. Notley rode a wave of discontent with the Progressive Conservatives and leader Jim Prentice. Missteps by the Tory leader during the campaign only added ammunition to Ms. Notley's contention that the long-governing Tories were out of touch.

"Basically, people are just angry at the PCs. It isn't just NDP supporters, people just wanted a way to ditch the PCs," said Liam Sparks-O'Neill, who voted for the first time on Tuesday.

Ms. Notley's family name runs deep in the province. Her late father, Grant Notley, is credited with creating Alberta's modern NDP. From 1969 to 1982, he struggled to build the party as the sole New Democrat in a legislature where PCs held nearly every seat. In 1982, he was joined by a second MLA. Mr. Notley was killed in a plane crash in 1984, missing his party's breakthrough two years later, when the NDP captured 16 seats.

"This is beyond my wildest dreams," said Ray Martin, who led the party during the 1986 breakthrough. "Grant would be just ecstatic with what his daughter has accomplished tonight. A Notley as premier."

Many in the NDP's old guard had long expected Ms. Notley to run for the party's leadership. She has been a union lawyer and worked on Workers' Compensation Board cases and with the United Nurses of Alberta. She also was a ministerial assistant for B.C.'s attorney-general in the 1990s.

Before her father died, she says, she had expected to become an activist: "The kind of lawyer who has a bunch of chickens running around her backyard." However, she soon began thinking of a career in public life.

Ms. Notley was first elected in the riding of Edmonton-Strathcona – an area dominated by blue-collar neighbourhoods and the popular Whyte Avenue. On Oct. 18, 2014, she was elected NDP Leader with more than 70 per cent of the vote, nearly a month after Mr. Prentice was sworn in as Premier.

While her party has stood third throughout her time as an opposition leader, the likeable Ms. Notley has had one of the strongest presences in the provincial legislature. Witty in Question Period, she has steered clear of the caustic tone adopted by some past opposition leaders.

Her party's strength came from her speeches behind the podium. With the small NDP caucus displaying a nervous energy, Ms. Notley had consistently been one of the first critics of Mr. Prentice's to find a microphone and respond. Throughout Mr. Prentice's time in power, the NDP has tabled and made public dozens of freedom of information requests and documents about the province's health-care and education systems.

Mr. Prentice has labelled Ms. Notley and her platform "extremist." However, much of the NDP platform has been constructed from positions endorsed by Albertans in opinion polls: A pledge to raise corporate taxes to 12 per cent from 10 per cent was based on a survey conducted by Mr. Prentice's government that found most Albertans in favour of hikes on corporations.

A move toward a progressive-tax system with a top bracket of 15 per cent is also supported by those who oppose the province's flat tax. A majority of Albertans have said they do not feel they are getting fair value from their natural resources, hence her promise of a royalty review. A commitment of better funding for health and education, in a province adding more than 100,000 people annually, is also wildly popular.

The Globe and Mail has detailed results from the 2015 Alberta election.

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