Orange blossoms in Alberta

I’m halfway down the stairs to the Central Station LRT platform when I see the train pull in. I run the last few steps and hop on board the nearest car just as the doors are closing.  As I look for a seat, I am surprised to find that most of them are already occupied. Very strange, I think. Where’s everyone going at 1:15 on a Sunday afternoon?

Three stations later, I’ve got my answer. They’re headed to the same place I am: the Alberta Legislature for the swearing-in of our newly elected premier-designate, Rachel Notley, and the members of her cabinet.20150524_152543

“Wow,” I say to the woman next to me on the packed escalator leading up to the Legislative grounds. “This is more like a crowd you’d see going to a concert than a political event.”

“Isn’t it thrilling?” she says. “I wouldn’t have missed this. I feel as though I’m seeing history in the marking.”

History indeed. Less than three weeks ago, Albertans repainted their political landscape for the first time in 44 years. Weary of the Progressive Conservatives’ corporate priorities, sense of entitlement, and unwillingness to act on pressing social issues, we swept the New Democratic Party into power with a 54 seat- majority government. I’m excited about politics for the first time in my life, and clearly, a lot of other people are feeling the same way.

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20150524_152712As I make my way towards the steps of the Legislature where the swearing-in will occur, I’m dazzled by the heat of an almost-summer, blue sky prairie day, and the thousands of Albertans with whom I’ll be sharing the afternoon . Little kids shriek and splash in the reflecting pools. Bearded hipsters cruise around in Notley Crue T-shirts. Seniors relax on benches in the shade. Women push baby strollers, and an entire family walks by, decked out in NDP orange. The music of 100 Mile House, a local folk trio, thrums through the sound system.

20150524_153119I’m lucky to find a viewing spot two people back from the roped off, reserved seating area. My immediate neighbors in the crowd are a chatty bunch. A high school-aged girl offers me her official program, saying she can share with one of her friends. A middle-aged man and woman debate the names of possible cabinet ministers. An African couple tell me they’re originally from Nigeria, but have lived in Edmonton twenty years. “We didn’t think we’d ever see an NDP government,” the wife tells me, grinning widely, “but now, it’s happened!”

At exactly 2 p.m., the NDP caucus emerges from the Legislature, and we greet them with enthusiastic cheering and applause. The decibel level rises sharply when Rachel Notley makes her appearance, her hands-over-mouth response to the size of the crowd typical of the emotional authenticity we decided we wanted in our Premier.

20150524_140757The next hour is filled with more governmental gestures of hope, inclusivity, and joy than I have ever witnessed. The ceremony begins with a prayer from a Metis elder and a Cree honor song. A Minister Responsible for the Status of Women is named, our first in almost twenty years. Notley steps to the microphone, welcoming us to “our Legislature,”  and greets each member of her cabinet – 6 men and 6 women – with a warm hug after they are sworn in.

All around me, people are responding to the optimistic tone with gestures of their own. After Notley’s oath, the ensuing silence is broken by a single “Yaay!” from far back in the crowd. A young woman’s voice yells, “Hey, Rachel! Nice shoes!” The African woman next to me offers her own blessing of each cabinet minister’s swearing in, with a quiet “And so it is,”  followed by a raucous “WOOHOOHOO!” And for the first time ever, I get choked up singing our national anthem.

After the ceremony, I wander back to where NDP volunteers are handing out green and orange creamsicles. I sit down to enjoy mine next to an elderly couple who have just been gifted with ice cream by two men who didn’t want to see them lining up in the hot sun. “How nice,” says the woman. “I guess everyone is feeling a little more generous today.”

“Afraid the naysayers will be out finding fault tomorrow, though,” her husband responds.

“Yes, I suppose,” the woman sighs. “And it’s true this government has a big job ahead of them. But I’m going to focus on what they might be able to do, instead of being gloomy. It’s too happy a day for that.”

And so it is. And so it is. 20150524_145111

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9 comments

    • Thanks, Meghana. I realized that this government is more about people’s needs than any I’ve ever experienced. I’m still flabbergasted by that, kind of a sad comment on what we’ve been experiencing in recent years.

  1. This post sums up what I have been hearing from people in all areas of my life. A true sense of hope has been born with the rise of the NDPin Alberta. Your photos capture the spirit of the event almost as well as your writing! I hope that everyone is able to be patient and give Notley time to get things going – there is a lot to clean up and it will take some time, I am sure. I have teared up several times during the national anthem, and I am sure I would have if I had been in attendance Sunday. But this post had me a little teary as well – Hope is a woderful thing!

    • Thanks so much for your comments and compliments, Amy. Hope and optimism characterized the entire event. There’s a sense with the NDP of really listening to what’s important to their electorate – and people are hungry for that. I watched part of Notley’s debrief with the media after her first day of cabinet meetings, and the look on her face as she listened to the questions said it all: she hears with her head and her heart, a rare characteristic in politicians.

  2. After the MESS that has been healthcare in this province, I am gobsmacked to learn my neighbour will become Deputy Minister of Health. Bill M-K is an advocate who knows more details than I care to and is active and ongoing in pursuing better ways of doing things. Considering how bad things have been, how much money has been paid to high rolling consultants, what poor decisions have been made for seniors and others (public and private partnerships in particular–good luck sorting out that schmoz), we actually have nothing to lose. In a way NDs are in a good position. They will be able to do better for the province, by telling the truth, making a plan, doing what they say they are going to do, finding ways to carry out their campaign promises, the hopes we have had for years.

  3. Telling the truth, making a plan, doing what they say they’re going to do – what a concept! II believe that the NDs will do their best to govern by these values. Even when the combinations for cabinet ministers were announced (Justice and Sol Gen combined with Aboriginal Relations; Health combines with Seniors), I thought, “Well that makes perfect sense.” But we haven’t had a lot of that showing through in governmental decisions over the years, have we? How refreshing!

  4. As a former Albertan, I was as surprised as anyone when the NDP rolled over the ruling Conservatives. But then my first election as a voter was the one where the Social Credit went down to utter defeat ( yes, you can all get out your calculators now!). And Peter Lougheed was one of the good guys, but that was long ago. May Rachel Notley be one of the good ones too. Alberta deserves a fresh start!

    Deb

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