With her cabinet appointed and government beginning to take shape, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was able to do something she could not during the spring election: share a stage with federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.
The two leaders spent some time together this past weekend. Shortly after their visit, federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau dropped by to say hi to the new Premier. Everyone wants to be seen in the company of the country's latest It politician, no one more than Mr. Mulcair.
Of course, it is now safe for the federal New Democratic Party to be trying to capitalize on Ms. Notley's winning aura. The election is over. Her party has four years to establish its governing bona fides. It was different during the campaign, when the Alberta NDP Leader went out of her way to distance herself from Mr. Mulcair and the federal party. She talked about how different the Alberta NDP was from other party associations across in the country. Ms. Notley made a point of saying Mr. Mulcair had zero influence on her party's policies.
While that will remain mostly true, there is now less concern about being seen with Mr. Mulcair, who has been viewed as an opponent of the oil sands. His presence alongside her at a photo-op is not going to cost her the election. And if the federal New Democrats believe they can capitalize on what happened in Alberta, Ms. Notley is not about to get in their way. But nor, I suspect, will she be doing a lot of politicking on Mr. Mulcair's behalf during this fall's federal campaign. She is now the leader of all Albertans, many of whom would not react kindly to seeing their Premier stumping for someone who has, in the past, been cast as an enemy of the province.
Much will be written over the coming months about whether the surprising electoral events in Alberta can translate federally for the New Democrats. Is Mr. Mulcair capable of pulling off a result that is similarly shocking?
The federal leader is justifiably proud of what happened to the New Democrats in Alberta. And it makes sense he would talk about an orange wave sweeping the country in October, even though the chances of this are remote. What happened in Alberta was the product of a unique set of circumstances. And no element in that outcome was more crucial than Ms. Notley herself.
She emerged in the campaign as a charismatic political force. She understood, and exploited, a zeitgeist of disenchantment that had been developing in Alberta for months, if not years. It is why her "time to throw the bums out" message resonated so powerfully with her campaign-trail audiences; she knew instinctively what the public wanted to hear. It helped that she looked different than the many dark-suited men who had governed the province since its inception; hers was the fresh face of change, not the status quo.
Ms. Notley was helped by the fact the provincial Liberals disintegrated before the election, allowing the progressive vote to coalesce around her party. She was assisted, too, by a split on the right between the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose. And a string of other factors, large and small, helped the stars align in such a way they illuminated a path to victory.
Mr. Mulcair has few of these advantages as he heads into this fall's campaign. The best he can hope for is that the Alberta New Democrats helped smash stereotypes and gave people across the country something to think about. The result showed political allegiances are fickle. People's bonds to political parties are not as strong as they once were. Voting intentions can turn on a sound bite.
Mr. Mulcair's NDP could benefit from a public growing weary of a Conservative Party weighed down with years of political baggage and a Liberal Party led by someone about whom many Canadians have lingering doubts.
The whiff of change is unquestionably in the air; what remains to be seen is whether Mr. Mulcair can take advantage of it. As formidable as the obstacles Ms. Notley overcame were, the political boulders standing between Mr. Mulcair and a federal triumph are much more daunting and seemingly immoveable.
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