If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, Tuesday night was nothing but wall-to-wall jubilant "OMG RACHEL!" and "WOW! ALBERTA!" posts.
Winning an NDP majority in Alberta is galvanizing. If progressive forces can pull that off, suddenly any victory seems possible.
What did the woman who is now premier-designate of Alberta do to create the magic that propelled the NDP to victory?
There are many lessons to learn from Alberta—starting with the fact that last night's celebrations were months, even years in the making. Here are six things political communicators can learn from what Rachel Notley did exceptionally well:
Get ready: Yes, Alberta was clearly ready for Rachel...but Rachel was also ready for Alberta. She worked hard on her message and her connection with voters, and that work began long before she was elected leader. It paid off throughout the campaign, and nowhere was that more evident than in the TV debate. In the face of a relentless attack, she kept her cool, stayed on message and even maintained a sense of humour.
Be real: Rachel's quick wit and highly-tuned bullshit detector are matched by her genuine caring for people, her sense of community and her passionate belief in what the NDP stands for. She had the confidence to let that all shine through authentically; none of it felt forced or insincere. And voters — and the media — clearly recognized it.
Go beyond: Rachel believed from the outset that every Alberta community is home to people who want to protect and improve health care, education and other services; who believe the cost of those services should be shared fairly; and who believe Albertans deserve a fair return on their energy resources. And she was determined to reach out to them personally wherever they were, even insisting on visiting Calgary—the stronghold of conservative power—on the first day of the campaign. The result was grassroots minivan campaigning at its best—and it's part of the reason the NDP's victory extended far beyond the party's traditional turf. But...
Target your persuadables: ...going beyond didn't mean failing to focus the NDP's message and resources where they would have the most impact. Rachel's campaign shaped their message early on to reach those Edmonton voters most affected by drastic cuts to hospitals and schools. Their positive early response provided the initial momentum for the province-wide surge that would follow.
Focus on people: Time after time, reporters and pundits asked Rachel about the parties, the premier or the horse race... and time after time, she talked about the people of Alberta instead. Because she'd listened closely to their concerns, she was able to talk about her solutions in a way that resonated powerfully with them. She also put a lot of energy into recruiting her team of candidates and asking them to do the same.
Make a distinction: With so many people so unhappy with the PCs and Jim Prentice, the NDP could have fallen into the trap of trying to appeal to all of them. Or of making their campaign only about the PCs' scandals and mistakes. But many of those angry people actually wanted deep cuts to services, and believed corporations shouldn't have to pay more. Rachel drew a clear contrast between that position and hers, and didn't concern herself with trying to win their votes. It made her a clearer choice.
These aren't the only reasons Rachel won, of course. Great candidates and the on-the-ground campaigning made a big difference, too. And the way Jim Prentice's cynical manipulations backfired so badly created an historic opening.
But fortune favours the prepared, as the saying goes, and that's doubly true of electoral fortune. Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP were able to make the most of that opening because they were prepared, smart and disciplined.
Rachel Notley let voters get to know the woman they would choose as their premier, and she shared her vision with a voice that connected with how people felt. That's leadership. Not magic.
It bodes well for the success of Premier Notley and her new government (those are six very sweet words to type). And it holds the promise of success for progressive activists everywhere in Canada.
Photo: Dave Cournoyer. Used under a Creative Commons license.