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.
“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.
As 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.
I’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.
The 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.”