Favourite teacher helped set Rachel Notley on path to politics

Jacqueline Louie


Rachel Notley’s favourite teacher helped set her on the path to politics.

The Alberta New Democratic Party leadership candidate drew inspiration from her high school social studies teacher, Jim Clevette, who taught at Fairview High School in the town of Fairview, six hours north of Edmonton. “He had a good sense of humour, and he made the topic interesting,” says Notley, who remembers Clevette introducing her class to contemporary social and political history, which helped her realize why history mattered.

Clevette had the class read a novel by Leon Uris, Mila 18, about the Warsaw uprising during World War II. “I remember finding it fascinating, and reading every single Leon Uris book ever written, even though his politics are not my politics,” recalls Notley, the MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona.

“Between really enjoying those topics and discussions in high school—and of course my own family context—the two came together to send me down the path I’ve gone, in terms of being very interested in politics.”

Notley’s high school French teacher, Doreen Verschoor, also made a lasting impact. “She was very good—she was very hard-nosed. You knew what you were doing when you were finished,” says Notley, who only realized how much French she had actually learned after graduating from high school, when she took a year off to work as an au pair in Paris.

Notley, who holds an honours degree in political science from the University of Alberta and a law degree from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, ended up focusing on labour law. She worked as a ministerial assistant to the attorney general in BC and for the United Nurses of Alberta before being elected in 2008 to the Alberta legislature as a member of Alberta’s New Democratic Party.

Now a candidate seeking the leadership of Alberta’s NDP, Notley believes “that Albertans’ political views are starting to move beyond the old line conservative parties, whether it be the PCs or the Wildrose. I am seeking to lead a party that will give Albertans a genuine alternative choice that they can have faith in. I think we can build a modern progressive movement in Alberta that approaches important issues head on.”

Education is one of those issues for Notley, who thinks it’s important for Alberta to improve and recommit to public education, both K–12 and at the postsecondary level. “I believe that I am a reasonably well contributing product of a good public education system,” she says. “I think we have to ensure the opportunities that were available 25, 30 or 40 years ago not only continue to be available today, but, in fact, improve. That should always be our vision, because public education is so critical to ensuring real equality for everybody in the province.”

Another issue of note is “ensuring that we are able to adapt to the realities of the environmental pressures that face us as a nonrenewable resource–producing province,” Notley says.

In terms of the next provincial election, “regardless of who the (Alberta NDP) leader is at that point, we’re growing, we’re more organizationally developed than we’ve been in decades, and financially we’re on a much better footing than we’ve been in decades. It’s a very exciting, once-in-a-generation opportunity for a real alternative voice to ascend.”