If you’re not from Alberta, you may not know that the province has been, functionally, a one-party state for decades at a time. Thirty-six straight years of Social Credit rule collapsed to forty-four straight years of Progressive Conservative control.
2015 saw the unexpected election of the New Democratic Party under the leadership of Rachel Notley, leap-frogging over the right-wing splinter party Wild Rose led by former Conservative MP Brian Jean, and crushing the PC party led by former Conservative MP, the late Premier Jim Prentice.
But no one expects the NDP to continue the tradition of four decades of rule, whatever its ambitions. And if party turn-over remains a reality, then Alberta will at last have become a modern Western democracy.
It’s been a rough ride for the NDP, despite the enormous popularity of Premier Notley, herself the daughter of the former provincial NDP leader Grant Notley. After the election honeymoon was over, the reality of low oil prices, a high deficit, and the handling of Bill 6 have threatened the party’s chances of re-election.
Bill 6 sought to protect farm workers by granting them Workers Compensation Bureau coverage and thus freeing farmers from liability, but the Bill 6 consultation and communications plan met widespread criticism spearheaded by the Wild Rose opposition. The defeat of the federal NDP, the former official opposition at one point seen as the next government, further dampened hopes for the provincial party.
But it’s not only the NDP facing a difficult future. The Alberta Liberal Party was reduced to a single seat and the defeat of its former leader Raj Sherman, himself a former PC. The former PC leader Jim Prentice immediately resigned and then died in a plane crash in 2016. Wild Rose leader Brian Jean’s attempts to discipline his own MLA Derek Fildebrandt seemed to have backfired and weakened his own position.
Worse still for Brian Jean is the former Conservative MP and Stephen Harper lieutenant Jason Kenney leaving federal politics to seek the leadership of the ailing provincial PCs to collapse it into the Wild Rose, topple Jean, and become the leader.
The only two women in the PC leadership race, Donna Kennedy-Glans and Sandra Jansen, both quit after being targets of what Jansen called “Trump-style politics” from Kenney supporters, whose harassment included calling Jansen a “baby-killer.” Jansen said:
“My social media has been filled with filth, my domain name purchased to direct people to smear pieces on me and … the final straw… Insults were scrawled on my nomination forms. Volunteers from another campaign chased me up and down the hall, attacking me for protecting women's reproductive rights, and my team was jeered for supporting children’s rights to a safe school environment.”
The result of such intimidation? Jansen crossed the floor to join the NDP.
Joining me to analyse all the above is David Climenhaga.
From his official bio: “David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet, and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at the Toronto Globe and Mail and Calgary Herald. He holds a Masters Degree in Journalism from the Carleton University School of Journalism in Ottawa. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians.” Climenhaga blogs at AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Climenhaga is also a 4th-degree black belt in Uechi-Ryu, a traditional style of karate from Okinawa, and during the course of our conversation he and I both make reference to the Eastern martial arts.
We spoke last week on November 25 at Climenhaga’s office in downtown Edmonton to discuss the present for Sandra Jansen, the legality and morality of floor-crossings, what Climenhaga calls “sleazy” tactics of the Kenney campaign, and how in his opinion the NDP is failing to put its star player on the field in the Grey Cup of provincial politics, possibly at the cost of its own future.
Full disclosure: I have volunteered for the provincial and federal New Democratic Party, and have also provided paid public speaking training for some of its members.
Etymology of Tory: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Tory