For Rachel Notley, don't call it a comeback
Returning to power after being defeated isn't easy
If the New Democrats win the Alberta election on May 29, they will do something no other party has ever done in the province’s history: return to power after being defeated.
Of course, it is a common thing for parties to go in and out of office in other provinces and at the federal level. But it isn’t very common for the same leader to run in three consecutive elections when that string begins with a win and is sandwiched by a loss.
That’s what Rachel Notley is trying to do.
In this analysis, I’m looking at past cases that match Notley’s situation. She’s a past governing leader who won an election, lost an election and is now trying to return to power without ever stepping away.
I could find only 13 other cases where a leader has done exactly this. There are other cases where premiers or prime ministers have gone away and returned — more recent examples include Robert Bourassa in Quebec or Joe Clark with the federal Progressive Conservatives — but it’s uncommon that leaders stick around uninterrupted.
There’s a simple reason for that. Once you’ve tasted power, a defeat is hard to swallow. Defeated governing leaders usually resign after they are rejected by voters.
Notley didn’t do that. There was good reason for her to stick around, though. Her performance in the 2019 election still ranks as the second-best ever for the Alberta New Democrats. Her personal ratings have remained respectable and there wasn’t an obvious successor waiting in the wings to bring the NDP back to the promised land. That Notley has put the party in a position where it has a serious chance of winning again suggests she made the right move.
But history suggests she has her work cut out for her.