TORONTO — The shifting tides of Alberta politics have left many pundits surveying a changed landscape, but they’ve also led one former Ontario premier on a stroll down memory lane.
In his former political life, David Peterson experienced both the kind of momentum that allowed NDP leader Rachel Notley to upend a Conservative political dynasty on Tuesday, as well as the spectacular collapse that drove Tory leader Jim Prentice from both the premier’s office and from public life.
“Rachel Notley reminds me of me in 1985,” Peterson said in an interview Wednesday as he recalled his own bout of giant-slaying 30 years ago, when he ended the longtime Conservative stronghold on Ontario and sailed into office on a wave of optimism and popularity.
“You get all of the breaks and you can do no wrong.”
And then there’s the “flip side,” Peterson recalled of what happened to him just five years later, when Bob Rae’s NDP was swept into power with a majority government after the former premier called an early election.
“You’re in a downward slide and you can’t stop it.”
Peterson said he finds the parallels with Notley the most striking, predicting the premier-elect’s moment in the sun may be short-lived.
“Nobody ever votes and says, ‘let’s keep things the way they are,'” Peterson said.
“They dream about some sort of a change, and this Rachel Notley came on. She’s bright, fresh, new, no baggage, full of resonating cliches, but she represented something good for people. Now, just wait to see how long it turns. It’s the nature of the business.”
The NDP took 53 of 87 seats in Tuesday’s election, not only toppling a 44-year Conservative dynasty, but reducing the party to a distant third in the provincial legislature.
Notley takes office with a majority mandate, a luxury not afforded to Peterson in 1985. He came to power at the head of a coalition government formed with the New Democrats, who agreed to support the Liberals for two years.
At the end of that agreement, Peterson won a sizable majority that allowed him to pass progressive legislation in areas ranging from health care to pension reform.
But he also became a prominent backer of the Meech Lake Accord aimed at encouraging Quebec to remain in Canada. Peterson agreed that Ontario should have fewer Senate seats than Quebec when he was trying to salvage the accord.
One political observer says that made Peterson seem out of touch with many Ontario voters.
David Docherty, president of Mount Royal University in Calgary, attributed Peterson’s ultimate defeat to both his position on Meech and his decision to call an election a year earlier than necessary.
Both factors were echoed in Alberta, Docherty said. Prentice angered voters by telling them to “look in the mirror” as an explanation for the province’s economic woes, and also summoned voters to the polls ahead of schedule to secure a mandate that would allow him to implement a budget that “didn’t satisfy anybody.”
Peterson, meantime, doesn’t see the same similarities, attributing his own electoral defeat largely to both Meech Lake and “my own inadequacies.”
Still, he recognized some parallels with the outgoing premier, though he questioned Prentice’s decision to leave public life and his beleaguered party without a leader.
“Somebody’s got to pick up the pieces of that party,” he said.
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Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press