Alberta Premier Rachel Notley received a resounding vote of confidence at her New Democratic Party convention in Calgary on Saturday, earning 97.8 per cent support in a leadership review that came immediately after she challenged opposition parties to defy her government's plans to raise the province's minimum wage.

Notley said her labour-friendly NDP government is moving ahead with plans to hike the minimum wage in the province to $15 per hour before the next election, daring the split opposition Tories and Wildrose — who both claim the hike would hurt business owners and lead to job loss — to campaign against it when Albertans go to the polls.

“I want to hear the opposition promise that they’ll take it away, (parties) who said they’ll roll back the minimum wage to where it used to be — the lowest in the country — and then we’ll see what the people of Alberta think about that. I think the people of Alberta support a fair minimum wage, I think the people of Alberta stand with us,” Notley said.

Alberta’s minimum wage currently sits at $11.20 per hour, having been raised by the NDP in October of last year from $10.70 — then the lowest minimum wage in the country.

Notley called the hike a necessary step to combat inequality in the province.

“It’s time for families to stop having to choose between groceries and rent,” Notley said.

Prior to last year’s election, the NDP were the province’s fourth-party with only four seats in the legislature. She led her party to a majority government in the 2015 Alberta election, ending 44 years of Progressive Conservative rule over the province. But Notley maintained that Alberta isn’t theirs — the same way it wasn’t the PCs when they governed the province for 44 years — divorcing Albertans from ideological narrowness.

She said that Alberta belongs to all Albertans.

“And one year ago, the people of Alberta decided it was time for progressive change. They decided it was time for an NDP government.”

The convention comes at a time that public opinion polls show the NDP trailing Alberta’s official opposition, the right-wing Wildrose Party, but there are still three years before the next scheduled election.

The province's economy is also in turmoil after being hammered by plummeting global oil prices that have resulted in tens of thousands of job losses over the past two years, mainly at energy companies. Alberta has the world's third largest reserves of crude oil, behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Its economy and government revenues are tied to the boom and bust cycle of oil. The recent Fort McMurray wildfire, in the heart of Alberta's oilsands industry, has disrupted production further, making matters worse.

“What a mess you folks inherited,” Pembina Institute executive director Ed Whittingham said during his keynote on Alberta’s climate change strategy.

There are others who have agreed. The Parkland Institute found that Alberta was North America’s 2014 leader in income inequality. The former PC government had chosen not to raise corporate taxes — which has sat at a flat 10 per cent since Ralph Klein was premier in 2006 — even though the majority of Albertans supported a hike, according to their own polling.

But that’s all part of what won the NDP the election, and Notley said the party and the province still have much to celebrate. The government introduced its climate change legislation last month and is on track to keep their election promise to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

In a raucous speech recounting her government’s first year in power and their harrowing victory over the long-ruling PCs to party faithful Saturday morning, Notley thanked the delegation for their commitment to the cause — “You might have been that one New Democrat (before the 2015 election) making it awkward at the family dinner table saying things don’t have to stay the same.”

Premier Rachel Notley attending a convention social event at Calgary's Glenbow Museum Friday night. Photo by Tim WIlson.

Without getting specific, she acknowledged that her party made mistakes in its first year in power and that “good people also work in Alberta’s other political parties."

But she threw shade on them anyway, saying the PCs “seem to be pretty good in opposition” and that the Wildrose Party’s behaviour raises “serious questions” about the capacity to govern the province.

Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt came under fire last month following comments he made about Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne during question period. Fildebrandt was briefly ousted from the Wildrose caucus, but has since been reinstated by leader Brian Jean.

​​Notley called Ontario a “key ally on many important files,” saying of the Wildrose that “if you cannot govern yourselves, you are simply not ready to ask Albertans if you’re ready to govern them.”

Her government also banned union and corporate donations to political parties in the province — their first act as government. She said getting Big Money out of politics was a necessary first step to level the political playing field. The PCs had long been the preferred party of Alberta’s oil companies, receiving millions in donations every year.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi spoke at NDP convention early Saturday morning, promoting government investment in municipalities. Photo by Tim WIlson.

Notley criticized previous governments for cutting public spending during economic downturns, “rejecting the policies of austerity” and lauding her party’s investment in infrastructure, clean tech and creating new public sector jobs.

“We are doing what we can as a province to stand with families to invest in jobs. Instead of austerity that just makes things worse, we are using every tool available to help people absorb this shock.”

Much of that investment will come through Alberta’s climate change legislation. Along with pricing carbon at $20 per tonne in 2017, before raising the levy to $30 per tonne in 2018, the plan allocates tens of millions in clean tech and low-carbon infrastructure investment like public transit.

That means Alberta consumers can expect to pay an additional 4.49 cents per litre of gasoline beginning in 2017 before that cost rises to 6.73 cents in 2018.

The legislation also amends personal income tax regulations to allow for rebates of $200 for single adults, $300 per couple, and $30 per child to offset the direct costs of the carbon levy in 2017. The government will issue rebate cheques in January 2017 for households with incomes lower than $95,000 per couple or $47,500 per individual.

Sixty per cent of Alberta households will receive the full rebate, with six per cent of households getting a partial rebate. The government plans to adjust the criteria in 2018 when the levies increase.

While she didn’t mention pipelines directly in her speech, she did hint at her government’s dedication to “market access.”

“What I talked to delegates about was the economic imperative of getting our product to market and of diversifying our markets and getting our product to tidewater. It’s not about the tube, it’s about what it does. And what it does is diversify markets and increase economic strength in Alberta and across the country,” Notley said in a scrum following her speech.

Whittingham called Alberta’s climate legislation — which Environment Minister Shannon Phillips tabled last month — the most comprehensive in any jurisdiction, anywhere.

His keynote preceded a panel discussion that included Phillips. Alberta’s opposition parties garnered boos from the delegation for voting against the government’s climate change legislation. Phillips said the Alberta Liberals and the Alberta Party stood on the wrong side of history by siding with the Wildrose against the legislation.

Rick Smith, executive director at the Broadbent Institute, called climate change and building a more equitable society the two greatest challenges facing social democratic parties today.

Sullen photo of an officer in a gas mask during the convention's tribute to Fort McMurray. Photo by Tim Wilson.

When announced, Phillips said lower-income users would wind up coming out ahead, given that the average carbon rebate recipient would receive more than they will pay toward the carbon levy. The government estimates the carbon levy will cost the average household $338 in 2017, while most families will collect $360 in rebates.

Smith called the rebate a good way to mitigate economic inequality while tackling climate change.

A new home for Canada’s progressives

Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh spoke on diversity and inequality later in the afternoon. He said we need to celebrate inclusivity, and praised Alberta’s New Democrats for doing just that.

“I officially say Ontario is not the centre of the world. For progressives and New Democrats, Alberta is now the centre of the world,” Singh said.

Notley applauded her party’s dedication to diversity. Over 50 per cent of NDP MLAs are women, including the premier, deputy premier, and environment minister.

“It’s come with a vengeance,” Notley said of women in government. “We’re loud and proud of the diversity of our caucus.”

Notley thanked her party’s former leaders, including Transport Minister Brian Mason, Raj Pannu, Pam Barrett, and her father, Grant Notley.

“Raj was raging against the machine long before the band knew it had to be done.”

And there’s still work to do. Notley said Alberta needs “comprehensive democratic reform,” along with the addition of a long-term public housing strategy and further work to address economic inequality.

The Alberta NDP's strong vote of confidence in Notley contrasts with what happened the last time New Democrats gathered in Alberta, earlier in the spring. At that time, federal party delegates rudely showed NDP leader Thomas Mulcair the door in Edmonton on April 10 with more than half of them voting in favour of a new leadership race.