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In Alberta, It Feels Like We're Voting for the First Time Ever

10/16/2015 07:59 EDT | Updated 10/16/2016 05:12 EDT
DEA / G. CAPPELLI via Getty Images
Canada, Rocky Mountains (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1984). Sign on national road number one, crossing Banff National Park

Nine years ago, it was my first Federal election as an Albertan and I thought my computer was broken. As polls closed and the results began to appear on the Elections Canada website, I immediately thought something was wrong. The entire province of Alberta was blue. I kept hitting refresh, surely there was something wrong. Refresh. Any minute now someone would notice that the results were being tabulated properly. Refresh. I kept waiting and waiting and now, all these years later, I'm still waiting.

I remember that night so well because it was that very moment that I realized that I now lived in Conservative country. And not like a country that had elected a Conservative government. But a province that felt like it was almost entirely conservative. I was still a relatively new voter and the concept of a whole province as big as Alberta backing the same party for decades was so baffling to me, and frankly, it still is.

But as bloggers and news pundits like to point out, Alberta is changing. What was once a stronghold now feels like the way we hold someone's hand when we're about to break up with them. In the ten years I've lived in Calgary, this city and this province has undoubtedly changed. So much so that sometimes it feels like I've moved to a whole other world.

Yes, everyone seems to agree. This is likely the first Federal election where Albertans, especially in the urban ridings, have a chance for their vote to actually matter. And I mean that literally. I'm not sure the rest of Canada knows how depressing it is to go and vote and then basically watch your ballot be thrown in the recycling bin behind the polling station, because before this election, unless you were voting Conservative, there's never really been a point.

I'm not saying things might change because the polls are saying so. We Albertans know all too well that the polls aren't always right, just ask Danielle Smith. But we know that things are changing because it's already started. It started when Calgary first elected Mayor Nenshi, then re-elected him three years later. Then came Edmonton's Don Iveson and now, of course, there's Premier Rachel Notley who successfully ended the PC dynasty that had consumed Alberta for more than forty years. (Many of us are still shocked about that one.) Now naysayers could look at each one of these victories as a series of coincidences or one-offs, but together, these progressive election victories come together like some sort of left-leaning, bike-lane loving, equal rights toting Megazord.

So why now? Well, because many of the people who've only voted Conservative are simply outnumbered. I, like hundreds of thousands of people came to Alberta looking for work, but I didn't leave my beliefs and values back on the east coast. I brought them with me. And eventually enough of us moved to Alberta, that election results began to change. First municipally, then provincially and now (likely) federally.

The animosity that many born and bred Albertans feel toward the Trudeau family name and the Liberals simply doesn't exist for newer Albertans. For us, tales of the National Energy Program live on like urban legends. And while many Albertans vow to never vote anything but Conservative, many more think that it's the candidate that represents you that's most important, not what someone's dad did thirty some years ago. That's the way we voted before we moved to Alberta and that's the way we vote now that we live here.

But that's not to say that we newer Albertans are the sole cause of this political shift. Edmonton has long been one of the most progressive cities in the country. If the CBC were ever to produce a Canadian version of Portlandia, Edmonton should be their city of choice. There's long been progressive voters in Alberta, but there's never been enough of them. Plus, if you hear urban legends long enough, you begin to think they're true. And it never feels good to vote against eighty percent of the province.

But losing some Conservative seats in Alberta might actually be good for the Conservatives and Albertans. And I'd be saying the same thing if the whole province went red or orange. A province that belongs solely to one party is undoubtedly going to be both ignored and taken advantage of. While a shoe-in province makes it easier when leaders are planning cross-country campaign stops, it's only a matter of time until the electorate begins to feel left out of the promises and commitments that leaders dole out during an election.

Regardless of what happens next week, if Albertan do elect some NDPs in Edmonton and Liberals in Calgary, don't look for the province to turn into some David Suzuki-esque utopia. More than fifty percent of the province will likely vote for the Conservatives, and that will be hard to change. But those looking for a voice might finally get one next Monday. That would be new. That would be cool.

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