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Grant Notley, leader of Alberta’s New Democratic Party from 1968 to 1984, stood out in Alberta politics. His goals, his personal integrity, his obvious dedication to social change, and his “practical idealism” made him the social conscience of Alberta.

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Grant Notley

The Social Conscience of Alberta

Leeson, Howard

When the European settlers streamed into this land a hundred years ago, the prairies seemed a vast almost unending region, a tabula rasa awaiting only the imprint of their collective hands. The Social Conscience of Alberta.

tabula rasa

  1. a. The mind before it receives the impressions gained from experience.
    b. The unformed, featureless mind in the philosophy of John Locke.
  2. A need or an opportunity to start from the beginning.

Introduction to the Second Edition

The period 1917 to 1992 was what many call the age of ideology.

He died too soon to recognize the profound changes that began in the United States with the election of Ronald Reagan and in the United Kingdom with the election of Margret Thatcher. The older divisions of society, submerged by the postwar consensus on political and social change, began to reassert themselves throughout the world. But it was the formal collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 that precipitated a vast and far reaching remake of the political world.

International and domestic politics were no longer defined largely by the opposing threats of capitalism and socialism.

The "clash of civilizations" paradigm that now seems to dominate international relations was not something Grant would have been familiar with.

Western alienation continues to influence all political parties in the province.

Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples report released in 1996.

Section 35 on Aboriginal rights be included in the Constitution Act.

The lack of debate about the role of foreign-owned corporations in the province is indicative of two major trends that have developed in the last two decades, both of which would have puzzled someone like Grant. The first trend is a decline in the concern about the role of foreign entities in the country. There is much more acceptance of the role of globalization and of international corporations in Canada. The second trend has to do with the role of private ownership and the decline of public ownership as an alternative. The general movement of politics to the right in the country has meant that the legitimacy of the role of private sector in Canada in many key policy areas is now well established. Grant would certainly have bristled at P3S (public-private partnerships) that have now become commonplace as a result of the Stephen Harper Conservative government's drive to privatize major areas of the public sector. The interrelationship of these two trends has meant that the matter of foreign ownership has largely declined in importance.

…. He (Grant) made the NDP relevant and respectable.

Introduction to the First Edition

In the house, where 74 of the members represent one philosophical view, and I represent another, I am here to challenge some of the basic assumptions…. It is the difference between a passive philosophy of government and an activist view of government that distinguishes today's conservative from today's socialist…. Whether government should plan ahead or anticipate problems, or simply react when disaster strikes: whether one backs public ownership with pride or backs into public ownership only when unavoidable. In my view, passive government is bound to fail despite the sincerity of its advocates.

There was proof at last that Alberta was not impervious to social and political change. Along with the rest of North America it had finally succumbed to urbanization and liberal capitalism. For the first time "today's socialist" faced "today's conservative" across the floor of the Alberta House. The old order of politics had been put aside, soon to be relegated to the political attic of past curiosities.

…. He (Grant) understood the need to capture office, to win the electoral struggle, to use the state to wrest power from the privileged classes in Alberta.

As Bill Irvine said, "… In a mixed economy the bank accounts of the wealthy will not be mixed with the bank accounts of the wage earners. The incomes of the monopolist protectors will not be mixed with that of the semi-bankrupt farmers.

Social Credit became increasingly the handmaiden of foreign capital, blessing the economic development and urbanization which would eventually prove to be its own undoing.

Thus, when the disaster of 1958 hit the CCF, and the leadership determined to forge a new alliance with organized labour…. there would be an attempt to wed prairie populism and urban socialism.

Chapter 2
University Years

Their liberalism kept them from being communists while their socialism prevented them from becoming liberals.

Chapter 3
The Early NDP

The 1962 convention marked the transition of the CCF to the NDP, the transfer of control of progressive politics from a rural, intellectual group, to an urban/trade union group.

Chapter 4
Provincial Secretary

In the late summer of 1966 the table officers met again to discuss a by-election. The incumbent in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest, William Kovach, had dies in August.

Chapter 6
The MLA for Spirit River-Fairview

By using the power of the state one could redress the injustices and maldistributions that result from unbridled capitalism.

NDP Leader Grant Notley charged Premier Lougheed with grandstanding and theatrics in his dispute with Ottawa over the oil export tax. By focusing his attack on whether the federal government had the right to impose the tax, the Premier has failed to protect the provinces' legitimate interest in the more important question of who gets the money from the tax, Mr. Notley said. "If we are to take the Premier's remarks seriously," the NDP leader argued, "his position is an extreme provincial rights stand which if successful would balkanize the country, erode the powers of the national government, and leave a divided Canada to the tender mercies of giant multi-national corporations."

For New Democrats in Ottawa the issue was clear. World prices were artificially high, and Canadians in central Canada ought not to pay them. For Lougheed the question was just as clear. Oil and gas were a provincial resource and if circumstances were such that the price of those resources had increased that money ought to go to the provincial government and the producers. In fighting the federal government Peter Lougheed had discovered the equivalent of the political Midas touch.

This was the riding which Garth Turcott had won only nine years before. However, the local members now wanted to support the Social Credit candidate, Charlie Drain, to keep the Tories out. Charley had been quite "Red" earlier in his life, and was still considered to be progressive.

Chapter 7
The Social Conscience of Alberta

Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund (!976). Thirty percent of all resource revenue were earmarked for the fund. "It must offset the probability of declining revenue in the future…. At the same time it must be a vehicle for diversification and for strengthening our economy."

Grant was a strong supporter of public education, that is, publicly funded education….In his opinion the world was not something that you "believed" in, it was something that "was", and this required that each individual be given facts about the universe around them. This required standards and quality educators, and some provincial control over the curriculum of each school. In short, he was opposed to allowing private schools to control their curriculum, except as it came to religious instruction. Even more importantly, he opposed the kind of "freedom of choice" which would lead to a two-tiered education system, one for the rich and one for the poor. But in spite of this, he also strongly supported the autonomy of local school boards within general guidelines.

The only way to keep an electoral party active in the face of such a lack of success, is to constantly replenish activists before they become cynical with defeat.

Conservatives began to look very "blue," moving away from red Tory policies of the past. He acknowledged that there was a "right-wing swing" in Alberta, but dismissed it as a short-lived phenomenon. But liberal-democratic societies were entering a profoundly right-wing decade led by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Chapter 8
The Leader of the Official Opposition

…. western Canadian provincial governments were viewed by the Trudeau cabinet as motivated by crass commercial interests, rather than high principle. In the Liberal view of the world, Quebec nationalists at least had principle and a cause. By contrast western premiers were viewed as largely unprincipled and avaricious, with little concern for the impact of their actions on the fabric of Canada. This, it was thought, was particularly true of Peter Lougheed although they also believed that Allan Blakeney of Saskatchewan acted in a parochial manner often enough to be the target of federal government legal action.

Peter Lougheed was the handmaiden of a foreign dominated oil industry.

Aberhart and Manning had entrenched the politics of alienation and hate in Alberta. Prior to 1935, in his analysis, there had been a participatory system, one in which both government and opposition had a legitimate position. After 1935, however, politics and elections became plebiscites and the fabric of the political system slowly became plebiscitarian, resulting in a one-party state. This led, he reasoned, to an unthinking electorate which did not debate issues, leaving them to the "experts" who were, of course, in the government. In this kind of polity the opposition became mere "politicians," self-seeking and self-aggrandizing while the government worked selflessly in the public interest.

"No man can ever be defeated ultimately by fighting for the things in which he devoutly believes."

Politically, Alberta emerged into the twentieth century in 1982. The have-nots of Alberta were no longer content to sell their vote for a bowl of future dreams, and this meant the end of one-party dominance in the province.

As we reflect upon these observations Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that one has to ask: has the time come on this continent to look at whether we shouldn't restructure the economy so that there is a primacy of people over things.