Alberta has long been seen as politically paralyzed. But it has always been a cauldron of discontent, producing the Reform Party, the Wildrose movement, the modern Conservative Party of Canada, and Stephen Harper. Notley Nation tells how this pent-up energy exploded in an unexpected direction with Rachel Notley’s NDP victory.
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How Alberta's Political Upheaval Swept the Country
Sharpe, Sydney/Braid, Don
"A Little Bit of History"
Mayor Nenshi... Purple Revolution... first Muslim mayor of a major North American city... a victory for well-educated, urban progressives who were culturally and ethnically ecumenical.
To the end, the PCs never imagined that progressives would unite with fed-up moderates and take hold of a provincial election.
But Notley's NDP swept the province, riding heavy support from the eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-old generation, as well as the resentments of older voters who felt the more-than-four-decade-old regime was completely out of touch. By election day, Notley topped the polls in every age category.
Harper chose to fight rather than adapt.
"We didn't have anything to say to city dwellers, we didn't have anything to say to millennials."
Alberta has always been a cauldron of discontent.
kudatah (coup d'état)
"The air war is to persuade votes. The ground game is to identify voters. The two [get] together in what is known as GOTV – get out the vote."
Prentice presented Notley and the NDP as enemies of energy, especially the bitumen produced from the oil sands and the new pipelines needed to get the crude to market. Notley called him out for "fear-mongering." She insisted she was not against bitumen or new pipelines but preferred to champion those with the best chance for success: TransCanada's Energy East pipeline that would pump Alberta crude to New Brunswick refineries; and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline to the southwest British Columbia coast.
Notley felt the other two pipeline projects were too tangled in landowner and regulatory opposition that could take years to unravel. Enbridge's Northern Gateway project was intended to carry crude from near Edmonton, Alberta, to Kitimat, B.C., for tanker shipment to Pacific markets. TransCanada's Keystone XL would pipe bitumen to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Notley's political judgment proved prescient. In a landmark decision, U.S. president Barack Obama vetoed the Keystone project on November 6, 2015. A week later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new Liberal government declared its intention to rule the northern B.C. coastline off limits to tankers, thus paralyzing Northern Gateway's moves. Later, that position seemed to soften as the government hesitated on actually imposing the ban pending discussions on a different site for the port. Trudeau was adamant, however, that "the Great Bear rain-forest is no place for a pipeline." But the whole issue seemed to become moot in July 2016, when Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the original approval was invalid because the federal government had failed to properly consult indigenous people.
When asked about the remarks as she voted at the advance poll on May 1, Notley laughed and replied that she hadn't spoken to Mulcair in months. She added that the campaign "has deteriorated into groundless name-calling, and it's certainly not the strategy that I would take." (In fact, the 2016 NDP national convention held in Edmonton would show the rift between not only Notley and Mulcair, but between her and the hard-left, anti-fossil fuel wing represented by the Leap Manifesto proponents.)
The hope-monger bested the fear-monger.
The Mirror Cracks
... highest Alberta voter turnout in a generation, 58.3 percent.
You must keep the constituency alive and vibrant. If you don't focus your attention on every one of the constituencies and know who the people are, you've missed the point. The constituency meeting is the most important business of the party. Politics always is a grass-roots organization." That was exactly what the PCs' two rivals, the NDP and the Wildrose, understood all the way to the ballot box.
But the problems ran much deeper than that. Government culture had grown increasingly corporate-minded. It had lost sight of individual Albertans, as PCs focused on their corporate donors — by the end, the vast majority of their funding was corporate. Ordinary Albertans began to think they were only afterthoughts. Many felt disenfranchised and stopped voting. No Albertan younger than forty-three had lived in the province when the PCs weren't in power. They were a dynasty that expected to govern forever.
Born to Run
For Notley, it was time to put her politics into action. "You can deal with each issue individually over and over again, or you can change the law – once."
Notley said. "This time, let's not forget history. Let's not repeat history. Let's make history."
The Purple Prelude
Nenshi, professor at Mount Royal University… ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2004… He was an expert in non-profits, had a high profile in the arts, and wrote a popular column on civic affairs for the Calgary Herald… A deeper look at his record shows that Nenshi was already very accomplished. He was a promising young marketing professor at Mount Royal University, with a resumé highlighted by a Harvard University Master of Public Policy degree, a position with global marketer McKinsey and Company, as well as United Nations work, and his own consulting firm, Ascend Group.
He had returned to Calgary in 2001 to be with his family. His parents had immigrated to Canada from Tanzania in 1971, and within a year the family had moved to Calgary. Devout Ismaili Muslims, the Nenshis taught their children the importance of giving back. "My parents stressed that no matter what we had, there was someone who had less, and that it was our duty to give back in whatever way we could," his sister Shaheen Nensk Nathoo told Marcello Di Cintio, writing for Readers Digest Canada.
Nenshi's academic work centered on civic engagement, and by 2009 he was actively "trying to recruit people to run for office." In April 2010 he incorporated his academic research into a TEDx Calgary talk and showed communities had become segregated by age, ethnicity, and income. When his talk was posted on YouTube, it became widely popular and broadened the discussions he was already having with students, friends, and potential candidates. While breaking down the myths about politics to those he canvassed, he uncovered one essential fact. The reason people said they didn't get involved or volunteer in civic politics was simple: "Nobody asked me."
The people who dismissed Nenshi usually weren't aware of this deep and detailed political work in his past. They thought he was just an ambitious neophyte, when in fact he was the most sophisticated candidate by far.
For Klein, the strategy was simple: "I pressed the flesh and went to the people." So did Nenshi, working the grassroots, going "anywhere where people gathered in the community." Nenshi and his campaigners showed up at the summer folk festival, river pathways, community parks, and grocery store parking lots. They got themselves invited to residences, housing complexes, and shelters like Awo Taan Healing Lodge, which uses Aboriginal traditions to help abused women and their families. It was a favoured charity for Klein and his wife, Colleen, who is very proud of her Métis roots. "When Naheed Nenshi came to Awo Taan, he was the only candidate to do so. That said a lot about him," continued Klein. 'Colleen and I both voted for him. He even reminds me of me," Klein laughed, remembering wistfully his first time running as an underdog for Calgary mayor.
For Nenshi, it wasn't about a brand of progressive politics or being left-wing or right-wing. "The left hates me as much as the far right, which people sometimes forget," he says. Instead, it's about what Nenshi calls "politics in full sentences." It means going out to the people and saying, "Let's treat you with respect." In Nenshi's view, it's a mistake to say that once people vote they become engaged citizens. Rather, they get involved and engaged first, and then they vote. That means that successful politicians must work even harder between elections to keep people excited about their community. "Then they come back and vote. key is to get excited about something."
Many weekends, Nenshi easily puts three hundred kilometers on his odometer as he travels from place to place within the city, attending events and talking to people, participating where he's asked. "Our big rule is the old political adage: Go to people where they live. Don't expect them to come to you," he says. "Many people live online and they form real communities online." Nenshi treated those communities as he did the others he could travel to by transit or car — he engaged and led discussions. Those conversations nurtured new ones and generated more interest, especially among young people who wanted information. "Because of social media, the millennials are the most informed generation. They choose to be unbelievably well informed," he adds. Where other political hopefuls had ignored the youth who lived on social media, Nenshi courted them.
There's one important initial goal in a political campaign: get someone's phone number. The general rule in politics is that one name and number in a database is worth four or five votes, because that person talks to others who aren't in the candidate's files. Social media change that rule. "Millennials are hyper-engaged," notes Nenshi. So their support on social media might mean several hundred votes through "likes" on a Facebook page, or a blog post or an Instagram photo. As Facebook friends weigh.
He talked about the old adage in Alberta politics that voting decisions are made over the Thanksgiving dinner table.
One of Nenshi's widespread warnings ran across the airwaves as the 'Darwin" quote: "I can't believe I actually have to say this, but I'm going to say it. The river is closed. You cannot boat on the river. I have a large number of nouns that I can use to describe the people I saw in a canoe on the Bow River today. I am not allowed to use any of them. I can tell you, however, that I have been told that despite the state of local emergency, I'm not allowed to invoke the Darwin law."
"Social media is critical as a good broadcast tool, but not as a listening tool," emphasizes Iveson. "It's still evolving as a listening tool."
Henderson, a strategist with Edmonton-based Calder Bateman Communications, adds that social media also act as a volunteer recruitment tool and set the tone for the campaign. "You can lose a campaign on social media, but you can't win one there," he adds perceptively. Social media have also become a receptacle for the angry and intolerant who use the Web, especially Twitter, to vent their vitriol. As Henderson puts it, "There's so much noise, it can be useless."
... Voters are looking for your attitudes and your aptitudes when they decide whom to support.
Big Dreams in Bad Times
It was nothing less than government engineering of a new economy, through a shift from non-renewable resources to green industries.
... West Texas Intermediate crude oil, the measure that matters most to Alberta's petroleum industry.
Most people who lived in Alberta on election day had not been born when the PCs took over in 1971. More than half the population was under forty.
Shannon Phillips, the province's new environment minister, co-wrote the introduction to a 2004 book called An Action a Day Keeps Global Capitalism Away.
The NDP always believed that bitumen should be refined in Alberta and shipped elsewhere as acceptable finished product.
Kevin Taft's Follow the Money.
Alberta's Energy Legacy
The carbon tax would provide direct incentives to wind, solar, and other alternative energy innovations as well as accelerate the switch from coal-fired generation to natural gas.
Bill 1 banned corporate and union donations to political parties, while Bill 2 increased corporate taxes for profitable businesses as well as progressive taxes for high-income earners.
Indigenous people endured "cultural genocide" under the guise of education.
Alberta Minister of Aboriginal Relations Kathleen Ganley.
Notley and her ministers rarely make an important announcement without pointing out that they are standing on one of Alberta's four areas of treaty land.
Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd.
Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson.
"Negotiations are about what you get at the other end."
Alberta hasn't received an equalization payment since 1963.
... taking the politics out of infrastructure projects and inserting logic instead.
... Alberta has had a strong bias to under-provide for maintenance, refurbishment and normal replacement of capital."
Dodge's plan takes a counter-cyclical approach to infrastructure investment: that is, it's best to borrow during an economic downturn when the competition for capital, materials, and labour is low, causing costs to fall. "By following this policy of counter-cyclical budgeting, public debt can be sustained at a manageable level over long periods of time – rising somewhat during periods of weak private sector demand... and falling during periods of excess demand."
Climate Leadership Plan… our goal is to become one of the world's most progressive and forward-looking energy producers.
Funds from the carbon tax would be reinvested in Alberta for research into alternative energy and other green innovations.
This historic and radical plan for Alberta's brand was backed by three men who seldom – if ever – stood together: Energy entrepreneur Murray Edwards, Greenpeace environmental activist Mike Hudema, and Treaty 6 Grand Chief Tony Alexis.
Alberta' royalty was clearly proper for the times.
Greg Clark, the leader and only MLA of the Alberta Party.
What the review revealed categorically was the high-cost reality of extracting marketable bitumen from the oil sands.
If Alberta's new climate action plan aligns government tax incentives with industry initiative, combined with environmental and First Nations guidance, there could be a golden future for Alberta energy.
Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.
The Supreme Court of Canada had pronounced Alberta's lack of farm labour protection unlawful. But Alberta remained the only province where farm workers had no protection under law.
Bill 6 blunder…. could have done a better job communicating.
Wildrose fomented the Bill 6 blaze that engulfed the government, led by the loud and exuberant MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who often seems to be the Wildrose enforcer. He travelled throughout rural Alberta, organizing protests with already riled-up ranchers and farmers.
In the end government passed Bill 6, but with crucial amendments that exclude children, relatives, and neighbours who help out but receive no pay.
...the province is beset by the sharpest rural-urban divide since its inception in 1905.
Ezra Levant – Rebel Media
The sobering fact is that the world is searching for affordable energy alternatives. Until reliable and abundant substitutes emerge, oil and gas will still be used, but with much more sensibly than in the past.
Math is Difficult?
When Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister on October 19, 2015, he followed her lead. His thirty-person Cabinet also featured an equal number of women and men. Asked why, he replied: "Because it's 2015."
Notley's chief of staff, Brian Topp, said he very soon noticed a shift on style unlike anything he'd seen in his years with Saskatchewan and Ontario NDP governments. "There's a different discourse when you have gender-representative government. You get a more thoughtful government, a different tone in the team. Government spends more time working to align, as opposed to political teams, all male, which are more competitive, [where] players butt heads until someone comes out on top. It's a more thoughtful and more deliberative government." He notes that the female ministers are hardly "shrinking violets" in the legislature, but they work collaboratively in their own circle.
Negotiations are about what you get at the other end.
"Alberta has lost its focus. They expected their resource boom never to end, failed to diversify their economy, and lost control of government spending."
"Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, it's not difficult."
Canadians don't discriminate between women and men candidates. They vote for the party they prefer regardless of gender.
"It's not about how well you debate or lecture, it's how well you listen; it's not about how well you lead, it's how many friends you have."
Brandy Payne was named associate minister of health. Lawyer Stephanie McLean became minister of Service Alberta as well as minister of status of women.
Wildrose leader Brian Jean has been adamant that his party is focused on fiscal issues rather than social concerns… We are not about social issues nor do we want to tackle social issues."
Bill 204, which allows domestic abuse victims to break leases without penalty, upon presentation of proof to landlords that they are in danger.
"Working with the new Ministry of Status of Women, our government will include the voices of women in our policies, programs, and legislation. Our province will be richer as a result."… increasing women's economic security, leadership and democratic participation, while decreasing violence against women and girls.
The province's gender wage gap is the highest in the country, with women earning just 63 percent of men's wages.
Cyber-bullying and threats on social media.
"In the security industry we view most people who make threats as what we call 'howlers', individuals who have no intention of carrying out their threats. The problem for law enforcement, though, is that among all these 'howlers' are what we call 'hunters'. Individuals who can pose a very real and significant danger to a public official."
"we're heading for an uncurated political culture. The political discourse once framed in newspapers and curated by owners is no more."...
The notion of people being able to say things anonymously. I suppose, is a problem.,,, It brings about both a democratization of the process, as well as loosening up the rules a bit around how people engage with each other. It has both good and negative outcomes.”
I just think that we're seeing a different part of people, and a different part of society.
Most bullies are weak and fear face-to-face confrontation. That's the appeal of social media, where the online rumble allows the bully protective cover. It's a perfect forum for community cowards who prefer to hide their hateful rants in the darkness.
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.
Kenney is widely assumed not to be pro-choice…. Strategic silence in the House of Commons could become action in the premier's office.
"Edmonton is a little more generous toward Liberals, probably because the city is less dominated by the oil industry," says Raymaker.
The 1980s Liberal drought in Alberta was directly related to Pierre Trudeau's introduction of the National Energy Program on October 28, 1980. By attempting to make Canada self-sufficient in energy, the NEP tried to hold the Canadian price for oil and gas below the world price, while imposing federal taxes that Alberta considered unconstitutional.
Trudeau, with Alberta's New Democrats, "have now moved clime-change policy to the top of the country's political agenda." In particular, Austen singled out Notley's "sweeping new climate change plan," where her announcement included, "somewhat surprisingly," oil sands company CEOs standing alongside environmentalists.
A mutual hate-on destroys any attempt at diplomacy and results.
Notley chooses talk over silence, diplomacy over disregard, conciliation over confrontation.
"Listen, this is a pipeline that's shipping product coming from a place where there is a cap. That cap is essentially one-third of what we were previously licensed to produce in terms of emissions."
And in the case of British Columbia, she has a strong bargaining position: a pipeline for a powerline.
Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain project.
Saudi oil minister Sheikh Zaki Yamani: "The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil."
The province's diversification away from petroleum has indeed progressed. Oil and gas constituted 36 percent of the economy in the Ralph Klein era. By 2014 that had dropped to 26 percent.
Every time the price of oil slides by US$1, the Alberta treasury loses $170 million in revenue.
For Notley to successfully complete her term and win another election, she knows exactly what she needs: a pipeline and higher oil prices.
Notley's climate initiative, with its carbon tax, is the centerpiece of her government. She is unequivocally committed to its success and absolutely considers it quid pro quo for a pipeline.
The Game of Thrones take-down of Thomas Mulcair was humiliating to even the most hardened of politicos…. The blood-letting began with the Leap Manifesto, whose intent is to eliminate fossil fuels. It encourages a dramatic economic move to renewable energy and transfer of ownership to community rather than private interests. It includes a moratorium on pipeline development and tanker traffic.
Notley was clearly annoyed with the Leap crew when she spoke to reporters. "The government of Alberta repudiates the sections of that document that address energy infrastructure. These ideas will never form any part of our policy. They are naïve, they are ill-informed, and they are tone-deaf."
"…. Well meaning activists ignore the unintentional consequence of their pipeline-blocking strategy. Global oil will simply be supplied by higher-carbon oil produced in less regulated markets and transported greater distances to customers. The result is more global GHG emissions instead of less."
"Pipelines are more energy efficient and safer than rail. We're in the process of a long transition away from fossil fuels, but it's going to take time. In the interim, we need our fossil fuel mobility in the safest way."
"Best Interests at Heart"
Younger Canadians are far less moved by regional appeals than they were decades ago. They move more freely across provincial borders for work and relationships. Social media, non-existent during the old East-West range wars, foster cross-Canada friendships and understanding.
Notley says she moved fast on climate policy so it will be entrenched whether the NDP survives an election or not. "We're well underway with the climate-change leadership plan so that win or lose, nobody is going to reverse that thing."
The NDP is also intent on irreversibly changing Alberta's social landscape through direct measures to help the poor; a tax policy tilted toward the middle and lower middle class; increases to the minimum wage; programs to reduce domestic abuse; raising the status of women and First Nations in the workplace and society at large; as well as doing much more besides.
Oil accounts for 20 percent of Canada's GDP.
"It's time for the public interest to govern what the government of Alberta does, and not private interests."... "We got rid of a backward-looking, climate-change denying, deficit-offloading, austerity-loving, failed Alberta Conservative government."