NDP Leader Rachel Notley says she’s used to being labeled the underdog.
“And that’s just fine with me,” she said during the first week of the election campaign. “We keep making history, and I know we will again.”
That narrative, which she raised in front of 1,000 supporters gathered at Polish Hall on March 24, fits with the NDP’s remarkable sweep to victory in 2015.
Under Notley, Alberta’s 44 years of conservative rule ended. Now she’s asking voters for a second term as premier.
As her party continues to lag significantly in the polls to the United Conservative Party, particularly in rural areas, Notley has doubled down on the message that her party is set to repeat the unprecedented 2015 win.
“Alberta elections have a way of surprising you … I think this one will too,” she said at a Lethbridge campaign rally Thursday.
Throughout the campaign, Notley has remained the star around which everyone else in the NDP orbits. Her candidates are dubbed “Rachel’s team,” and videos on social media curate her image as that of the approachable fun-loving premier, whether it’s dancing at Pride festivals or hugging babies.
She joked at the Lethbridge rally that she’s held more babies than she can count since the writ dropped March 19. “But far fewer than I want,” she added.
The avid runner, mother of two and owner of a three-legged rescue dog (who made an appearance at the Edmonton Pride parade wrapped in a colourful feather boa) has deep roots within the Alberta NDP.
Her father Grant Notley served as NDP leader from 1968 to 1984, when he died tragically in a plane crash. During the 1970s he was the only provincial New Democrat. Her mother Sandra Notley was known as a devout Anglican with a strong social conscience.
Notley, 55, the oldest of three, was born in Edmonton but raised near Fairview, a small town about 115 kilometres northeast of Grande Prairie in the heart of Peace Country.
She has spoken publicly about how her parents helped form her political outlook.
Notley completed a political science degree at the University of Alberta before going on to York University’s prestigious Osgoode Hall Law School.
She built a legal career that focused on labour law, including a stint at the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), and worked with the B.C. government in the mid-1990s.
She told Postmedia in 2014 it was while working as a ministerial adviser to B.C. Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh that she decided she wanted to work in government. She had worked on new occupational health and safety law and extending benefits to same sex couples.
After returning to Alberta in 2002, Notley worked on a union-sponsored campaign to defend public health care.
And then she made her first foray into politics.
Notley was elected to the legislature to represent Edmonton-Strathcona in 2008, becoming one of just two NDP MLAs along with then party leader Brian Mason.
Four years later the party doubled its number of seats to include MLAs David Eggen and Deron Bilous, who are both running for re-election. Mason has retired from provincial politics.
The day after winning NDP leadership in 2014, Notley led a memorial in honour of her father, marking the 30th anniversary of his death. She said at the event she believed there would be another breakthrough for the NDP (two years after Grant Notley’s death, the NDP had a surge of support and won 16 seats in the legislature).
Months later she became premier when her party won a 54-seat majority.
Despite four years in government, the NDP have focused their campaign on the idea that they are fighting for Albertans. The party’s slogan is “fighting for you,” and during rallies Notley asks supporters to fight with her for the economy and public services.
When Albertans vote on Tuesday, Notley will square off against arguably her most formidable opponent yet, UCP Leader Jason Kenney.
But Notley stops short of calling it an uphill battle.
“We have a feeling of momentum,” she said in Canmore during an interview Friday, after being asked if she still considers herself the underdog. “As a New Democrat in Alberta I will always feel that I have to work twice as hard as anybody else.”