Critical Kvetching: Sophia Hershfield’s hope for the Alberta NDP after its close defeat by Danielle Smith

Sophia Hershfield (your kvetching columnist) and Danielle Smith (Alberta’s returning premier).

Critical Kvetching is a new column where York University graduate student Sophia Hershfield provides her take on the Jewish side of politics in Canada.

Despite a campaign filled with controversies for Premier Danielle Smith, the Alberta New Democrats couldn’t defeat the United Conservative Party.

But the results were close—and the NDP, which performed well in the popular vote, will be forming the largest official opposition in the province’s history. It was either a comeback success for Rachel Notley, or a major loss after a campaign filled with missteps.

Either way, the election results pose a dilemma for Alberta leftists going forward.

When the NDP pulled off its victory in 2015, and Notley became premier for four years, right-wing loyalties were divided between the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservatives. The contempt that often forms against long-ruling parties had come for this bunch after decades in power.

Uniting the right was a strategic move to choke out the left. So far, it’s been successful. And because waiting for your opponent to mess up isn’t a viable long-term strategy, the NDP will need to define its path beyond those fractures.

Smith leaned into the “United” part of the UCP. She kept her polarizing opinions on the down-low and came across as steady, reliable and tolerable for voters who might’ve considered swinging left instead.

But while this approach secured another majority, the UCP’s strength has been shaken. The NDP still swept Edmonton, forcing deputy premier Kaycee Madu out of his seat. The provincial health and justice ministers lost their ridings, too.

These wins were chalked up to leaning into the centre—an approach not much different from the Conservatives.

So, what would it take to ever win the province back? Doubling down on this centrism, or returning the NDP to the left?

Despite its reputation, Alberta isn’t a right-wing monolith. A few rural and small-town ridings went orange this time around. Calgary has previously elected progressives at every level.

And while the close results of the latest provincial election has left political commentators at odds, one thing is for certain: Jewish voters lost.

Danielle Smith has flirted with antisemitic sources while also minimizing the Holocaust in the months before she became premier. In response to these details being revealed, the Calgary Jewish Federation said it was important that “our community is not used as a wedge between political parties.”

But, time after time, NDP comments about Israel frequently meet with community condemnation and exhaustive open letters. Reactions like these are less commonly directed at conservatives, especially in Alberta.

Now, if a reinforced opposition is looking to return to its roots, the New Democrats can step up to the plate by pointing out this double standard. After all, given the recent history of the UCP’s own leader, it’s likely to come up again.

Sophia Hershfield can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Critical Kvetching.