As Alberta marks two years since the election that brought the NDP to power on Friday, Premier Rachel Notley's government faces an ongoing challenge in its relationship with Calgary.
When the NDP made its stunning breakthrough in the May 5, 2015 election, the party won an unprecedented 15 Calgary ridings — the party's first seats in Alberta's largest city since 1993, when it lost two Calgary seats. It has since added a 16th Calgary seat with the defection of former Tory MLA Sandra Jansen.
But its first two years in office have seen the NDP govern through a recession spurred by low oil prices that has hit the city hard, a fact acknowledged by Notley in a Thursday news conference at the legislature.
"Our government knows and understands that Calgary has suffered significantly as a result of the oil-price drop. We know that they faced bigger job losses and more challenges certainly than we saw at least originally in Edmonton," said Notley.
"So we've been very focused about what that means for the people of Calgary. When we think about our job creation work and things that we can do, that work has always been informed by our awareness of how important it is for the people of Calgary."
Notley cited government actions such as its small business tax cut as being prompted by Calgary input. She said the NDP has a good relationship with the city government, the oil industry and non-profit groups in Calgary and said she wouldn't speculate on how the government is perceived.
But Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said there has been a disconnect between the NDP and Calgary through the first half of its term, partly because of the economic situation and partly because of the nature of the government.
He noted that the Alberta NDP have always been an Edmonton-based party and most of the major players in Notley's cabinet, including the premier, hail from the capital.
"There's a sense that they are distant and that the policy decisions that they are making have been to the betterment of Edmonton more than Calgary," Bratt said in an interview.
"Their budgets have been about protecting the public sector. Where is the public sector based? It's based in Edmonton."
Pollster Marc Henry of ThinkHQ Public Affairs said signature NDP policies such as the broad-based carbon tax implemented at the start of this year have been more unpopular in Calgary than in Edmonton.
Calgary polling by ThinkHQ released last fall showed the NDP narrowly ahead of the Wildrose and PCs, who were tied. But a more recent survey have them slipping back, he said.
An April poll conducted by Mainstreet Research for Postmedia had the PCs ahead in Calgary at 33%, the NDP in second at 27% and Wildrose at 24%. Most polling has shown the NDP trailing far behind in rural Alberta, making the city crucial if Notley wants to win a second term.
In contrast to Edmonton, where the NDP swept the city and took more than 50% of the popular vote in every riding, the NDP's victories in Calgary in 2015 generally saw much tighter margins of victory. Joe Ceci, the NDP's star Calgary candidate who subsequently became finance minister, came the closest to winning a majority as he took 49.8% in his Calgary-Fort riding.
"In Calgary, they're probably not in great shape," said Henry, who was chief of staff to former mayor Dave Bronconnier.
A looming question is whether the NDP will face a unified conservative party in 2019. A unity discussion group with representatives of both the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose faces a Friday deadline to report back to members on negotiations.
But Bratt said all is not necessarily lost for the NDP. Concrete progress on the construction of new pipelines, strong economic growth and action on reducing the provincial budget deficit could bolster the NDP, especially if social issues come into play in the next election.
"To say that 'oh, it's obvious the NDP is a one-term government,' I'm not convinced of that. But they do have a tough row to hoe, there's no doubt about that."