CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Alberta’s new left-leaning government, which sensationally ended the Conservative party’s 44-year run in Canada’s energy heartland this week, is undertaking a crash course that could be called: “Ruling for Rookies.”
The election victory by the New Democratic Party (NDP) on Tuesday will deliver one of the most inexperienced parties ever to take office in Canada. The party previously held just four of 87 seats in the legislature and only a few of its 53 new lawmakers have ever held public office.
Among resumes that list experience as union workers, yoga teacher, lawyers, students and salespeople, talk is already focusing on an oncologist who could become health minister and an economic policy analyst who may take the finance portfolio.
With that, hasty steps are being taken to prepare dozens of new legislators to lead a province that is home to the world’s third-biggest proven oil reserves and with an economy bigger than Ireland’s.
“They are starting to come out of the haze now and asking things like ‘When do I get paid?’ and ‘Do I have to quit my day job?’ There are questions about offices and cell phones and things like that,” said NDP strategist Brian Stokes, the party’s deputy election campaign director.
First step: Take down the embarrassing Facebook pictures, such as that of a 26-year-old legislator posing next to a marijuana t-shirt or another with a manicured hand giving the middle finger to the Canadian flag.
Second step: Arrange media training for the 49 newly elected legislators, who were rarely in the public eye before the 28-day campaign kicked off last month. Urge them not to publicly praise former Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, as one has in the past.
Third step: Have university-students-turned-legislators suspend school to sit in the provincial legislature.
“There are certain people who were not expected to win, to be honest, even though they all worked very hard,” said NDP spokesman Bradley Lafortune. “We are working with all the (newly elected) about what they can expect when they come to the legislature for the first time.”
Voter anger over a tax-raising budget, the cost of an early election and campaign gaffes unexpectedly tossed out the Conservatives, leaving them third in the polls.
The shock win has prompted newly elected legislator Thomas Dang, 20, to put his computer science studies on hold and move out of a student residence to focus on politics.
“My parents are just very excited and very happy that I am going to be able to represent the constituency,” said Dang.
Filling the cabinet’s critical energy and environment portfolios will be a challenge for Premier-elect Rachel Notley, 51, a labor lawyer and politician’s daughter who was first elected to the legislature herself just seven years ago.
Incumbent legislator Brian Mason is considered a contender for the environment file, but few names for an energy minister have yet to surface.
For her part, Notley, who was chosen as party leader last October, said she is undaunted.
“We do what every government that has ever changed ... does. You bring them in, and you learn the ropes, and you hit the ground running. And you slowly get better,” Notley told a news conference.
Analysts expect Notley to control the message carefully, noting she has a big pool of candidates to chose a cabinet from. The NDP’s tally of 53 deputies may even to rise to 54 if a recount goes their way.
“With a 54-seat caucus she can kick somebody out if they are being a twit,” said Lori Williams, a professor of political science at Mount Royal University in Calgary.
The rookie politicians will face opposition from the similarly inexperienced Wildrose Party, a right-wing party formed in 2008, which siphoned votes from the Conservatives.
The crop of new politicians is drawing comparisons to the fresh-faced NDP members elected in Canada’s 2011 federal vote, though they ascended from obscurity to official opposition status, not government, in Ottawa.
Charmaine Borg, a community activist who was 20 when elected to the federal House of Commons in 2011, offered advice to her new youthful provincial peers.
“Don’t walk into the legislature with your head down as if you don’t belong - you do belong,” she said.
Additional reporting by Randall Palmer, David Ljunggren, Mike De Souza, Leah Schnurr in Ottawa and Mack Lamoureux in Edmonton,; Additional writing by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Amran Abocar and Alan Crosby