EDMONTON — Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley, fresh off dismantling a four-decade Progressive Conservative machine, said she’s ready to begin work as premier-elect with a cast of newbies.
“It’s a really great group of MLAs,” Notley told reporters after her party swept to a majority win in the provincial election Tuesday, dropping a PC party that had been in power since 1971 to third-party status in the legislature.
“There are a few students amongst them. Not very many, but a few. And I think that’s great because we are the youngest province in the country and quite frankly post-secondary education is one of the issues that we need to do a better job on.
“So I’m very excited to be able to rely on their counsel, and their energy and their enthusiasm.”
The NDP caucus had four members before Tuesday’s election, but that figure has now exploded to 53 in the 87-seat legislature.
Notley also has to revamp the budget in the coming weeks.
PC Leader Jim Prentice did not pass the budget before calling the election on April 7, saying he needed a mandate from voters to implement it. The Prentice plan called for across-the-board tax and user fee hikes to go with service cuts and a $5-billion deficit.
Notley has promised to restore $1 billion in cuts to health care in the budget and says she will make sure there is funding to cover an extra 12,000 students expected to enter the grade school system this fall.
She also plans to hike income taxes for the wealthy and increase the corporate income tax rate to 12 per cent from the current rate of 10 per cent, which is the lowest in Canada.
She has also promised a royalty review to determine if Alberta is getting the proper amount of return from its resources.
In the dying days of the election, Prentice and business leaders attacked Notley’s plan, saying it will drive investment and jobs out of Alberta.
Notley responded after her victory Tuesday: “I look forward to working collaboratively with all job creators in Alberta.
“I’ve always been very committed to ensuring that we maintain a competitive economic environment here and a competitive investment environment.”
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said his 21-member team is ready to begin work on a renewed mandate as official Opposition. He says he will focus on the province’s finances.
“I also plan on helping balance the budget. And that means we have to be a fierce opposition and make sure that we keep as much money in your pockets as possible,” he told supporters in Fort McMurray.
The Tories begin their first full day in the political wilderness looking to find a new interim leader to replace Prentice.
Prentice, who had been on the job as premier for less than eight months, announced he was quitting politics after his party fell from 70 seats at writ-drop down to 10.
Gordon Dirks, Prentice’s education minister who lost his seat in Calgary-Elbow, said it might be time for the PCs and the fellow right-centre Wildrose to unite.
“In this province a split on the conservative side is not healthy for the conservative movement,” Dirks told reporters.
“The two wings of that movement are going to have to come together in order to provide the kind of opportunity that I think many Albertans would want to see.”
Political observers say it was the mass floor-crossing of the Wildrose caucus last December that led in part to the voter backlash against the Tories on Tuesday night.
Liberal Leader David Swann and Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark also won seats.
One riding is undecided as PC Linda Johnson and Anam Kazim of the NDP finished in a dead heat.
— With files from Chris Purdy, Bill Graveland in Calgary and Rob Drinkwater in Fort McMurray.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press