Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley flanked by many of her Edmonton-area candidates at the Citadel Theatre on May 19, 2023.
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley flanked by many of her Edmonton-area candidates at the Citadel Theatre on May 19, 2023. Credit: David J. Climenhaga Credit: David J. Climenhaga

Calgary may be the battleground in Alberta’s May 29 provincial election, but NDP Leader Rachel Notley stopped in Edmonton Friday morning to tell a throng of supporters packed into the entrance hall of the Citadel Theatre in the city’s downtown what her party would do for Alberta’s nowadays-neglected capital city. 

“Our moment is now,” Notley told the capacity crowd of the Alberta NDP’s plan “to build a better future for Edmonton. “We are going to invest $1.8 billion into this city over the next three years, creating 5,000 new jobs in the process.”

“We will build the new South Edmonton Hospital,” she continued, her emphasis reminding listeners that while the United Conservative government talks about its plans for the facility, it has stayed on the back burner since the UCP was elected in 2019. “We will get started on a new stand-alone Stollery Hospital, so no parent ever has to wait with their child in an overflowing emergency room.”

The Stollery, Edmonton’s children’s hospital, is now part of the University of Alberta Hospital complex and another project unlikely to be started under the current government, vague promises notwithstanding. 

“We will build more affordable housing, thousands of new units and rental supports to lift people out of poverty and get them on the path to stable, healthy lives with more opportunity for everybody,” Notley said. (Most Edmontonians understand that affordable housing is part of the solution to the persistent social problems in the city’s downtown.) 

“We will build and we will modernize 40 schools,” Notley said, “schools in areas like the southwest, where Nathan Ip can tell you we desperately need them.” (A tip of the hat to the former three-term school trustee and NDP candidate in Edmonton-South West, the only Edmonton riding to elect a Conservative in 2019.) “No more ‘coming soon’ signs in empty fields. Just high quality education for your children delivered by 4,000 more teachers!”

Ip, vice-chair of the Edmonton Public School Board, introduced Notley at Friday’s event and is thought to have a strong chance to defeat controversial UCP minister Kaycee Madu.

Notley also promised an NDP government would build a new advanced skills precinct at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

There, she said, borrowing a page from the Joe Biden strategic handbook, “we will train thousands of new apprentices across all the skilled trades in partnership with unions and we will do that so that more Albertans can get good paying jobs that support their families and contribute to Alberta’s prosperity.”

The opposition leader and former premier also promised to revitalize the capital city’s shabby downtown – neglected by successive Conservative governments, and lately supposedly the target of a law and order policing campaign by Premier Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party. (A personal observation: As someone who walks through Edmonton’s downtown almost every weekday, including Friday on the way to the Citadel, is that there is no sign of Smith’s claimed boots on the ground.)

“We’ll revitalize our downtown and support entrepreneurs and small business owners who – guess what? – won’t be paying any small business tax under an NDP government,” Notley promised. (We can talk another time about the merits of Alberta’s tax race to the bottom – it clearly resonates with voters.) “We will do all this without asking families to make sacrifices,” she added later. 

“Instead, we will ask the biggest, most profitable corporations to pay their fair share.” The UCP, of course, will try its best to create the fear that any tax increase – even a tiny one affecting powerful fossil fuel corporations making out like bandits in the currently troubled world economy – will put Alberta on the road to poverty and perdition. 

Later in her remarks, the NDP leader turned to the elephant in the room of Alberta’s 2023 election: Smith’s bizarre behaviour and many outrageous statements, and those of many of her candidates. 

“My opponent, Ms. Smith, she doesn’t really like to talk that much about her team,” Notley observed. “The latest round of controversial comments coming from the UCP are ugly, embarrassing, and offensive. Just look at what’s been in the news. And look, also, at how Danielle Smith has responded.”

“When her deputy premier is caught last week on video saying people should pay to visit Emergency Rooms, she claims it was made up. But it’s there. On film. (This is a reference of one of Smith’s two deputy premiers, Nathan Neudorf. The other is the aforementioned Madu.) 

Notley continued: “When her candidate in Calgary-Fish Creek made deeply misguided and racist comments about black Albertans, she said… nothing at all.” (That UCP candidate is Myles McDougall.)

“And when her candidate in Lacombe-Ponoka compared children to, you know, I don’t even want to say it,” Notley began – a reference to Jennifer Johnson, the UCP’s now-notorious transphobic “poop-cookie” candidate in Lacombe-Ponoka. 

“Let me try again. When the UCP goes after some of the most marginalized kids in our province, and Danielle Smith waits days to respond! You know you have a leadership problem. And we know that. Because, you know the real problem, honestly … is the leader!” 

Smith has said so many things, Notley explained, “all of them in high definition,” that it is hard to know where to begin.

“She goes out and she calls criminals to discuss their criminal charges, interfering in the justice system and breaking the law in the process. My friends, that is wrong, and she must be held accountable. We cannot let this become the new Alberta. We must stand together and defend the Alberta that we know and we live in – inclusive, welcoming, compassionate, anti-racist, and pro-trans-rights.”

Both Smith and Notley will know in a few days how much respect Albertans have for each other, and for the rule of law. 

The Citadel was the site of one of Notley’s largest and most enthusiastic rallies in the lead-up to the 2015 election – and we all remember how that one turned out. So perhaps the venue has a lucky vibe for the premier and her election team. 

If anything, the crowd was bigger and more enthusiastic Friday than in 2015 – so big, in fact, that the room was at capacity and even the fringiest outposts of the alt-right digital media had to admit that Notley’s supporters raised the roof.

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...