We ought not to be gobsmacked by the results of the Alberta election, although, of course, we are. But this Alberta has always lived below its surface, and even emerged into the air sometimes, as it did last night.
It is the Alberta of the United Farmers of Alberta, who took power in the province in 1921 — progressive, but not crazy-eyed, idealistic, but not so ideological that they could not work with business and industry. It is the Alberta before oil came, and turned the province away from its collective roots, and towards something dirtier, and greedier. It is, in an odd way, the Alberta of the Social Credit, in the days when the distance between the Socreds and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the CCF, could be measured by a few fingers. Social Credit took hold in Alberta, the CCF in Saskatchewan, but they were united in their populism and their pursuit of a common good, which, they were agreed, had mostly to do with wresting the prairies from the grip of the eastern bankers.
It is the Alberta of Peter Lougheed, although I realize some old-school NDPers might recoil from that notion. But it is the Alberta that, when the old guard has exhausted itself, as the Socreds had by 1971, tosses them mercifully but decisively out the door, there to ponder their mistakes (but never to return to amend them; as @KeithBoag noted on Twitter last night, “no political party has returned to power in Alberta after being removed in a previous election”). And which then reconfigures itself with dazzling speed.
It is the Alberta that likes to surprise itself and everyone else by electing a pudgy young man of colour as the Mayor of Calgary, simply because he seems the best person for the job (and because they like the confused look on the rest of us, when they confound our expectations). It is the Alberta of freethinking women who wield their power confidently, like Nellie McClung and Emily Murphy, and of people who come to the province from elsewhere (as McClung and Murphy did), and then help to move it forward, with a stiff prod if necessary. It is the Alberta that knows when it has strayed too far from the things that made it Alberta back in the day — that sense of common good, the farmers’ knowledge that community is not just an idea but a survival tactic, that prosperity is for everyone, and that a government that will not act to protect its citizens from greedy eastern bankers (then), or the land from rapacious international corporations (now), is simply not doing its job. It is also the Alberta that is too slow, sometimes, to remember those things.
It is not the Alberta of Ralph Klein. It is not the Alberta of Jim Prentice. It is not the Alberta of Steven Harper.
Albertans who have lived with these ideals in their back pockets for a long time will now probably have to grow up a bit. As Ken Brown wrote here on Monday, the new government will screw up, as all governments do. It will learn to compromise. It will not be able to live up to all the ideals of its supporters, and it may even end up betraying them. But for the moment, let’s enjoy the fact that the impossible happened. And that Alberta, even if only for this one, bright, shining, and highly unexpected moment, has re-found its best self.