Alberta Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley campaigning during the 2023 election campaign.
Alberta Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley campaigning during the 2023 election campaign. Credit: David J. Climenhaga Credit: David J. Climenhaga

Bored reporters were trying to gin up a little post-election excitement this week speculating about whether Rachel Notley will stay or go now that her New Democrats are back in Opposition, albeit with a significantly larger caucus than before May 29.

“Rachel Notley ‘considering’ her role as Alberta NDP leader following 2nd-straight election loss,” CTV intoned portentously, implying that the Opposition Leader is pondering a quick exit. 

“New Democrats in Alberta may have a new leader heading into the next election, after all,” CTV’s reporter hyperventilated, no doubt dreaming of an entertaining leadership race. 

He quoted Notley, 59, telling a group of reporters that, “what I can promise you is that when I’ve engaged in what I think is a responsible level of consideration, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

This may sound like a story to some reporters, but to me, it smacks of dry Notleyan sarcasm that any of her friends would recognize. 

Other media listened to the same words and took a slightly different tack. “Rachel Notley will remain as Alberta NDP leader — for now,” said the CBC. “Notley staying on as NDP leader, but will take time to consider future role,” Postmedia said

Still, their hope for a leadership race was pretty clear. 

Well, don’t hold your breath. 

“It’s good leadership to consider your role leading up to an election and to consider your role after an election,” Notley told the reporters, sensibly enough. “I did that in 2015, did it in 2019, did it leading into 2023, and of course I’m doing it now.”

I can tell you that when Notley says something like this, she’s thought about it carefully and she means what she says. She will consider her options, what’s good for the party, and what’s best for her family and for her. 

Maybe she will move on, maybe she won’t. But it won’t be soon enough to create a good story for the summer of 2023. 

My money’s on her sticking around, at least for the time being, no matter how much a few reporters wish she’d quit so they could have a leadership race to cover.

Notley, you see, isn’t a big baby like Jim Prentice, Alberta’s last Progressive Conservative premier, who threw a tantrum and quit on election night in 2015 when the NDP unexpectedly won a majority, leaving the PCs in a state that ultimately led to the party’s collapse and subsummation into a Wildrose Party rebranded United Conservative.

“My contribution to public life is now at an end,” Prentice huffed moments after the results were announced, swiftly exiting stage right. He would have done better for himself and his party to stick around for a while. 

Nor is Notley a Danielle Smith, who texted a reporter after her loss on election night in 2012 that “I am leaving public life.” When more questions were forthcoming, she added, childishly, “piss off … leave me alone.” 

If the election had gone the other way on May 29, I imagine we would have seen a similar scene unfold. 

Be that as it may, that’s not Rachel Notley. 

If Notley decides to go, she will stay long enough to ensure an orderly succession, leaving a party that won’t fall apart like the PCs did, to the great detriment of Alberta, after 2015. 

If she decides to stay, it will be because she has a plan that she thinks can bring the party the necessary step closer to victory when the UCP fractures along ideological lines or does something to create a political or constitutional crisis. 

Such developments are not impossible and may not be unlikely. 

I am not, of course, predicting such a thing, but readers with long memories will recall that Pierre Trudeau was yesterday’s man after the 1979 federal election, and he was welcoming us all to the 1980s with a majority government nine months after that

So stranger things than a bad relationship like the one called the United Conservative Party suddenly flying apart have happened before and will happen again. 

But let me close with some speculation as idle as CTV’s: Have you ever wondered what would have happened if the PCs had lined up behind Alison Redford in 2014 instead of sending her to Coventry? What do you want to bet she would have beaten Smith a second time in 2015 and the PCs would still be the government today?

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...