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Rachel Notley, Christy Clark Sure To Become Strong Allies

05/12/2015 02:59 EDT | Updated 05/11/2016 05:59 EDT
BC Gov Flickr/CP

The historic victory of Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP provoked a giddy reaction among New Democrats across Canada. Many even adorned themselves with orange ties, socks and other articles of clothing in a sort of end zone celebration dance.

Among the enthusiastic revellers were members of British Columbia's NDP opposition caucus. They might be excused for living vicariously through their Albertan counterparts, given they were the ones all but a few predicted would reign victorious two years ago.

A beaming John Horgan, B.C.'s NDP Opposition leader, commented that he was "ecstatic" at his former colleague toppling Jim Prentice and ending the Progressive Conservative's dynastic reign in neighbouring Alberta. (Horgan and Notley were political collaborators in Victoria during the 1990s.) It was a bright spot for Horgan, whom political observers say has yet to find his mojo when facing down his more charismatic opponent, B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark.

How long Horgan et al. will feel that warm orange glow depends to some extent on Clark herself, and how she and Ms. Notley hit it off. Indeed, there are signals to suggest a strong relationship will unfold between B.C. and Alberta's leaders.

For many Canadians, Premier-elect Rachel Notley made her first impression with a rousing victory speech on election night. Students of political history would note that it was the ultimate expression of the Churchill adage "In victory, magnanimity." Notley began her remarks by exalting her defeated opponent Prentice, and the others who opposed her for the premier's job.

Then Notley showed her character by promising to work with Prime Minister Stephen Harper --even waving her palms at the crowd to quell boos, stating "You know, we're kind of a part of this country, folks." It had the ring of a leader driven by pragmatism instead of partisanship.

The speech provided a glimpse into how Notley thinks, and why we can surmise her relationships with Clark -- and by extension Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall -- could well form the backbone of her political mandate.

Rachel and Christy: BFF?

Since Christy Clark's surprise victory in May 2013, she has demonstrated her canny political instincts most by proving she can work with some of her fiercest critics.

Political watchers here will never forget how she took the stage with labour leaders Jim Sinclair -- the firebrand former B.C. Federation of Labour president -- and Tom Sigurdson on an industry training agreement.

Clark's coup de grace, however, was getting a six-year settlement with the B.C. Teacher's Federation, after striking an accord with BCTF president Jim Iker to end a bitter strike.

By contrast, Clark found relations with Alberta "frosty" with Alison Redford, Alberta's former PC premier who later resigned from her office. At a glance, Notley looks like the antithesis of Redford -- she's charming and self-confident, and an equal match to the B.C. premier who shares these qualities.

B.C. and Alberta have many common goals, including a desire to improve inter-provincial trade. Clark, for example, vowed to have direct delivery of B.C. wine to other Canadian provinces, including the Alberta government that has stubbornly resisted these changes.

The issue of energy and the environment are front and centre for both of these leaders, as well as a shared interest in working with the oil and gas sector.

It will irk NDP partisans seeing their newly crowned Alberta premier mingling with those they traditionally oppose. But Notley's speech made it clear she plans to work closely with other provinces and the PM, in addition to First Nations, union and local government leaders to benefit her province.

Oddly missing from her victory speech was any mention of her federal counterpart Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the federal Opposition and the man who wants the prime minister's job this fall. Some say she took pains to distance herself from Mulcair during the campaign.

Notley's shyness about Mulcair may or may not reflect how much importance she places on her political stripes. But it does suggest she knows when to take off her orange-coloured glasses to get things done for Alberta.

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