Braid: Rachel Notley's NDP awaits her decision on whether she'll leave or stay on

Of course, political leaders should never suggest they’ll quit until they actually do it.

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There’s a burning question in NDP ranks that can’t be extinguished until Leader Rachel Notley announces whether she will quit or stay on.

She gives her stock response in a year-end interview.

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“I am still thinking about my future, as I said before, and I’m going to take some time to think about it. And when I’m ready to talk more in detail about it, then I’ll let folks know. OK?”

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Asked if that means she could stay to fight another election, Notley said, “Absolutely.”

Of course, political leaders should never suggest they’ll quit until they actually do it, because they instantly become lame ducks and touch off messy party battles.

The late PC premier Ralph Klein learned that lesson the hard way in 2006, when he mused about leaving but then dawdled for months.

I’d say Notley’s call is a toss-up.

She has been an MLA since 2008 and NDP leader since 2014. She fought five elections, including three as leader.

She faces a long grind until the next election in 2027. Notley may decide it’s time for someone new.

There would be no shortage of eager applicants from her young, energetic caucus.

But Notley carries huge political value. As a former NDP premier, her status is unique. For many people, she is the NDP — a key reason they support the party.

One day in December, a rumour that she was about to announce her resignation took flight.

It wasn’t true, but national TV news was calling for interviews within minutes. Very unusually for an opposition leader in one province, Rachel Notley is a national story.

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She has led the NDP to heights undreamed of when her father, Grant Notley, was the party’s sole voice in the legislature until he died in a plane crash in 1984.

But since winning government in 2015, the NDP has lost two elections — in 2019 and again this year.

Supporters of Rachel Notley of the Alberta NDP party arrive at the Westin Hotel in Edmonton before the Alberta election results were revealed on May 29, 2023.
Supporters of Rachel Notley of the Alberta NDP party arrive at the Westin Hotel in Edmonton before the Alberta election results were revealed on May 29, 2023. Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postmedia

Even though her party won more votes than ever before in May, it wasn’t enough to defeat a one-party conservative movement.

This was a crushing defeat. The NDP had led the UCP in the polls for most of two years and brought in far more donations than Premier Danielle Smith’s UCP.

But on the one day that mattered — May 29 — they were left six legislature seats short of victory.

There is an argument that if the NDP couldn’t win after all the scandals and uproar that trailed Smith into office it might not even be possible, because most Albertans are just that conservative at heart.

Notley doesn’t buy that for a minute. Nor should she.

Smith’s political high-wire act, especially her fierce battles with Ottawa, could lead to a dead end. If Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives win the next federal election, the anger card will be off the table.

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Notley doesn’t see the election as a bitter defeat. Rather, she views it as a campaign the NDP could have won if it hadn’t been “abbreviated” by the wildfire crisis.

“At the end of the day, we had a destination to get to and we got two-thirds of the way to that destination,” she says.

“We got more votes than we’ve ever gotten. We won all of Edmonton, we won a majority of Calgary seats and we came very, very close in several other ridings in Calgary.

“We made inroads in rural Alberta, in terms of the amount of votes that we got, even though the number of seats didn’t reflect it.

“So, we made good progress. And you know, sometimes these things aren’t a one-cycle event.”

If Notley does stay, one key reason will be her existential battle with Smith over how the province approaches climate change and conflicts with Ottawa.

“We as a province are confronting a very, very serious problem, and that is the threat of climate change, its impact on the environment, its impact on our economy and its impact on our kids’ future,” she says.

“And we do not currently have a serious government that is attempting to bring about any kind of real solution to the challenges we face as a result of climate change.”

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She said a net-zero emissions electricity grid was achievable by 2035 until the province declared a halt to renewable projects.

“It’s very likely the case that 2035 may be a challenge now, but that doesn’t mean that you just say, oh, we’ll do it by 2050 with no plan on how to get there. Her 2050 number is simply a talking point, a strategy to do nothing and put the problem off on the next generation.”

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

On the battle over a federally mandated emissions cap, Notley says, “you’ll remember we (the NDP) first proposed a cap in 2015. And we had the leaders of the oil and gas industry around us on the stage when we rolled that out.

“The main difference is that that was a made-in-Alberta plan. This government has abdicated that responsibility entirely.

“So, now we have Ottawa coming in and trying to impose this on us without the care or precision or knowledge that is required with respect to the energy industry in order to get it right.

“I think that we do need to cap and reduce our emissions, but it needs to be done in a way that does not have the impact of shutting in production.”

Notley is incensed by the recent UCP decision to reimpose nine cents per litre of gasoline tax, as well as the apparent plan to delay full implementation of an income tax break that was their key election promise.

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“Danielle Smith promised Albertans a major affordability measure that would fully start Jan. 1, 2024. Now, she’s delayed it until the spring at the earliest, and she may not commit as much or as fast as what she promised even then,” Notley said.

“Albertans can’t tell their landlords, their banks, their utility providers to wait an extra four months for payment, and a phased payment after that.”

When Rachel Notley gets rolling she doesn’t sound like a politician who’s tired and wants to move on. Either way, it’s a tough call for her and her party.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Calgary Herald

X: @DonBraid

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