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Opinion

Centre-Left merger is the NDP’s only chance in Alberta

If the NDP intends to actually contend for power, the logical conclusion is to reach out to the Alberta Party and the remnants of the Liberals and Greens to build a broad new, centre-left coalition. There may be ideological space for four successful left and centre-left parties at the federal level, but not in Alberta.

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If Alberta’s left ever wants to come close to power again, it has no choice but to merge with its smaller competitors and move into the mainstream.

In the 113-year history of Alberta, no governing political party – once defeated – has ever returned to power.  It is a peculiarly Alberta phenomenon that sees a single party govern –normally without significant opposition – for a long period, to be followed by its total collapse and a new dominant party beginning the process over.

The only notable exception to this otherwise iron rule was the election of 2019 that saw the NDP become Alberta’s first and only one-term government, and a restoration of the Tories under a new brand.

The NDP fit into Alberta’s natural political equilibrium about as well as the Wildrose would fit Vancouver’s.  Its win in 2015 was primarily caused by the disastrous mass-floor crossing of 2014, a disastrous PC campaign, and a triumphant debate performance by Notley.  The NDP’s victory was entirely fair, but it was a one-off.

It is doubtful that the NDP could have won a second term even if the Wildrose and PC parties had not merged, but the marriage sealed their fate more than a year before the votes would be cast.  Despite running a ho-hum campaign plagued by scandal, a clear majority of Albertans were united behind a single purpose: throwing out the NDP.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley

Major policy reversals and the unceremonious end of the “grassroots guarantee” should have caused serious fissures with the Wildrose wing of the UCP, but the coalition held together for the single goal of ousting Notley from power.  It was a vivid example of the axiom that in Canada, “Oppositions don’t win elections.  Governments lose them.”

The NDP still held onto a large opposition caucus united behind a single party, overwhelmingly in Edmonton, but with small toeholds remaining in Calgary and Lethbridge.

At present, they have no real hope whatsoever of forming government again.  Even if major scandal were to hit the Tories from the RCMP investigations currently underway, and economic recession returned, the NDP’s core values do not make it a viable vehicle for government in Alberta’s political environment.

The question before the NDP now is whether to mainstream the party to contend for power again, or to double-down on its ideological convictions and return to its role as the leftist pole of gravity as a loud but permanent opposition voice.

In the eventual leadership race to replace Notley, the party’s members may have good cause to go with the latter: a loud but permanent opposition.  From the NDP true-believer’s perspective, the party already sold-out and moved to the centre after 2015.  Despite raising taxes on businesses, the party went out of its way to appear friendly with large corporations.  Despite introducing a carbon tax, it wasn’t high enough to actually affect behavior, and much of the money went back to Oil Sands producers in the form of corporate welfare subsidies.  The NDP might have stifled the growth of non-government schools, but should have shut them all down.

The true-believer wouldn’t be wrong in concluding that they had made great ideological sacrifices, just to lose anyway.  Members of this view will want Notley’s replacement to be a firebrand socialist running to pull the Tories left, not replace them.

If the left is to make a legitimate attempt at seizing power again, it’s highly improbable that they will do so under the NDP banner.  For the Tories to buck Alberta’s iron rule of defeated parties never returning to government again, they had to strike a deal with the Wildrose to do so under a new name.

Liberal Leader David Khan

The NDP alone dominants the entire opposition side of the legislature and does not face an ideologically-similar rival of a strength that the Wildrose faced in the PCs, but it failed to consolidated enough of the progressive vote to have a chance.

With no discernible policy differences, the morbid Liberals received just under 1 per cent of the vote running in 51 of 87 constituencies.  More important than the 1 per cent of the vote though was lost manpower.

The NDP’s biggest foil was the Alberta Party.  The AP ran a markedly more centrist campaign in 2019 than it did in 2015 and managed to capture 9 per cent of the vote, but Alberta’s first-past the post system being what it is, failed to translate into any seats.  The Alberta Party may have run a campaign in the mythical ‘centre’ of the political mainstream, but without the unifying force of “defeat the NDP” or “stop the Tories,” didn’t have a solid base on which to build and was squeezed out.  Most Alberta Party activists were driven by a deep unease about Kenney, but were unwilling to drink the socialist bathwater of the NDP.

However much they may view themselves as the political goldilocks of Alberta, without a solid ideological base, it is unlikely that they will go anywhere anytime soon.

Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel

If the NDP intends to actually contend for power, the logical conclusion is to reach out to the Alberta Party and the remnants of the Liberals and Greens to build a broad new, centre-left coalition.  There may be ideological space for four successful left and centre-left parties at the federal level, but not in Alberta.

There is the possibility that more die-hard elements of the NDP would split off to form a less compromising party, but as those of us who attempted it on the right found out, the will to defeat the hated incumbent in power is a more powerful unifying force than any principled policy stance.

The NDP still dominates the left and it’s doubtful that there’s much appetite for putting more water in its wine, but all it might take is for a Jason Kenney of the left to win the leadership of the Alberta Party.

Opinion

BARNES: Albertans deserve the right to make the big decisions in referenda law

Guest column from Drew Barnes says that Alberta’s referendum law should be expanded to allow votes on big constitutional issues.

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Guest opinion column from Alberta MLA Drew Barnes

“I am and I will remain a populist, because those who listen to the people are doing their job.” Matteo Salvini.

At its core the word populism is the action that government policies should be determined by the will of the people, not the will of the elite. Direct democracy is the institutional populism in action.

There is debate over whether populism should be termed as a movement or an ideology. Since the actions of populist engagement can transcend the ideological spectrum, I believe it should be viewed as a movement, that can sometimes manifest itself ideologically. As a movement, populist participation can take place on all points of the spectrum. Ultimately, that is what is wanted from a democratic society – engagement from all points of the spectrum.

Now more than ever, we need a new grassroots-populist approach to politics. Grassroots politics by its nature suggests that it is a movement that is sparked from the bottom-up. Politicians who came from grassroots movements must never forget where they came from, or lose sight of what they came to do. We need more of the bottom-up approach to politics, and make listening to the people that elected us a priority.

This is taking place in some measure here in Alberta. Political party policy processes allow for constituency associations to generate policy proposals for conventions, where they are voted on by the membership. Every party in Alberta – with the exception of the NDP – uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system.

Another grassroots/populist tool is referenda, that when used the right way are a valuable democratic tool. Referendums however, must stay true to their purpose, and the process for bringing them forward must allow for citizens to craft their own – fair – wording on a question. This is not to say that any question – however subjectively worded – that anyone wants to ask should be put to a referendum. Therefore, the rules on the use of referendums must not be overly onerous, nor overly temperate.

Switzerland is a prime example of a country that takes full advantage of referendums, including citizens’ initiative. In their democratic system, referendums can occur up to four times annually. All citizens registered to vote can cast their ballot on issues affecting decisions within both their federal government and their cantons (autonomous provinces). Before each vote, all registered voters receive a package of booklets in the mail which provide details on the coming referendums. Since these referendums began in 1848, just under half of the referendum proposals have passed. Even if they don’t always pass, the process is crucial to starting conversations and keeping citizens involved in debate. Referendums also force political parties to reach beyond partisan lines to reach consensus.

Alberta’s legislature recently passed a bill that guides referendums on non-constitutional matters. While this is a positive step forward, there are issues in this bill that need improvement. 

For example, Albertans initiating a referendum might go through the process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the cabinet alter the wording the question. While fair wording of the question is critical to the integrity of direct democracy, that issue is not best dealt with by politicians who may have a stake in the result. Instead, clear guidelines should be established in law on question wording, and left to non-partisan officials at Elections Alberta. 

And while the new referendum legislation is a big step forward over the status quo (that is, nothing), it deliberately bans citizens-initiated referendums on constitutional questions. This means that if Albertans wished to force a vote on adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that they would not be allowed. Similarly, Albertans are barred from forcing a vote on reforming the Senate, equalization, or internal free trade. Ominously, Albertans have no right to force a vote over the heads of the legislature on independence or other forms of sovereignty. 

I believe that Albertans can be trusted with the right of citizens’ initiative on all questions, both constitutional and non-constitutional. 

We trust the people to elect a government to run our systems, so why can’t we trust them to bring their own questions forward? 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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Opinion

LETTER: Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East

A reader says that Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East.

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In this ‘Era of Wokeness” along with the ascension of Black Lives Matter into the public consciousness, I believe that it would be detrimental to the Conservative Party of Canada to have Erin O’Toole as
it’s leader.

Mr O’Toole recently refused to use the word ‘racism’ and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it even exists. Erin O’Toole will hand the Trudeau Liberals an easy victory during the next election, should he become Tory leader. Canada cannot afford another four years of Justin Trudeau. 

Like it or not, most people in Ontario and Quebec (where all federal elections are ultimately decided owing to their number of allotted seats), are very much ‘woke’ on the issue of racism, as well as
sexism, homophobia, ect. In my experience, this also includes most Conservative Party of Canada voters in Eastern Canada.

Right-wing populism and social conservatism does well in Western Canada – but centrist Red Toryism is all they are prepared to accept in most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. CPC members in Western Canada need to keep this in mind when voting for their next leader. 

CPC members need to be sensible and realistic if they want to win the next federal election. 

Gila Kibner 
Edmonton, Alberta

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Opinion

LETTER: While Trudeau mislabels regular guns “military-style”, he is handing real assault weapons to the police

A reader says that Trudeau is militarizing the police while disarming Canadians.

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RE: Canada’s cops worried Liberal gun ban will hamper training

I enjoyed your article on the gun ban and how it will affect cops. A point of view the CBC would never share.

Perhaps another topic should be brought to the public is this: Although Justin Trudeau said there is no place for these weapons in Canada and Bill Blair said these  weapons have only one purpose – and that is for one soldier to kill another soldier – they gifted more deadly weapons to our local police forces through the Canadian Armed Forces., as was done recently in my hometown of St Thomas, Ontario.

What is the government’s agenda in giving true military assault weapons to the police and banning “military-style” (no legal definition) weapons from civilians. 

John Siberry
St. Thomas, ON

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