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ndp and liberals searching for a pulse on the prairies.

You can be forgiven if you missed it. Hundreds of Liberals from across Alberta gathered in Edmonton last weekend for the biennial meeting of the Liberal Party of Canada in Alberta.

Bob Rae
Bob Rae

Speakers and guests at the weekend conference included interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, Scarborough-Agincourt MP Jim Karygiannis, and Senators Grant Mitchell, Art Eggleton, and James Cowan. One of the main guest speakers was Donna Clare, the Edmonton-based architect who designed the new Royal Alberta Museum.

Electing only two MPs in the three prairie provinces, the west was a wasteland for the federal Liberal Party in the 2011 election. Only in Manitoba, where the party earned 16% of the vote did they place above 10% (they earned 9% in Alberta and 8% in Saskatchewan). While the west has not been a bastion of Liberal support for at least two generations, this level of support is far below the average support earned over the 1990s and 2000s.

The decline in support can also be seen at the provincial level.

With 5 MLAs and 10% support in this year’s provincial election, the Alberta Liberals are the strongest of any prairie Liberal Parties. In the November 2011 election, the Saskatchewan Liberals failed to elect any MLAs for the third election in a row and only earned 0.5% of the popular vote. In Manitoba’s election, held in October 2011, the Liberals fell from 2 MLAs to 1 MLA and earned only 7% of the province-wide vote.

Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau

Leadership was undoubtably a topic of discussion over the weekend conference. Next year, the federal Liberal Party will be choosing its seventh leader in ten years. Interim-leader Mr. Rae, who entered the role after Michael Ignatieff‘s resignation in 2011 election, recently announced that he decided to stand by his previous commitment not to seek the permanent leadership.

The rate at which Justin Trudeau is being touted as a leadership contender makes his candidacy feel almost inevitable. Long-shot candidate George Takach was in attendance at the weekend convention and constitutional expert Deborah Coyne entered the race today. Liberals activists I have spoken with over the past few days have named New Brunswick MP Dominic Leblanc, Quebec MP Marc Garneau, former Quebec MP Martin Cauchon, and past Ontario candidate David Bertschi all as possible candidates for the Liberal Party leadership.

Meanwhile, in Saskatchewan…

A little further to the east, supporters of the provincial NDP gathered in Saskatchewan for their annual conference and passed a resolution calling for a strategy to grow their party in the three prairie provinces. The conference included speeches from federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who has not endeared himself to some Conservative leaders in the prairie provinces.

Brad Wall
Brad Wall

The popularity of conservative Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall led to the provincial NDP being nearly wiped off the electoral map during last year’s Saskatchewan election. Currently without a permanent leader, the Saskachewan NDP have scheduled a leadership vote to be held in March 2013.

The decline of NDP support in Saskatchewan is not limited to the provincial level. Once a stronghold for prairie social democrats, federal NDP support in Saskatchewan took a sharp decline in the 1990s and the party no longer has any MPs from that province represented in Ottawa.

Over time, support for the NDP has shifted away from rural areas and to the cities. This concentrated urban support has not helped the NDP in Saskatchewan, where urban federal ridings were redrawn to include large rural areas outside the cities, where the Conservatives hold strong support. Despite leading his party to huge gains across the country, I am sure that former leader Jack Layton‘s address in central Toronto did not help grow his party’s support in rural Saskatchewan. It will be interesting to see whether the NDP under Mr. Mulcair, another big city politician, will be able to regain a toe-hold in Saskatchewan in the next election.

Across the prairies, the NDP remains strong only in Manitoba, where dominance over the northern regions and the city of Winnipeg ensures the continued election of NDP majority governments in that province. In Alberta, NDP support has long been limited to a handful of constituencies in Edmonton, where the party has 4 MLAs. Federally, the NDP placed well in a few Edmonton ridings, and Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncanwas re-elected in 2011.

A photo of Shannon Phillips Alberta NDP Candidate in Lethbridge-East.
Shannon Phillips

A creed known as the Lethbridge Declaration is gaining attention in some NDP circles by those who recognize the need to reconnect with voters in the prairie provinces. It is not completely clear how they will accomplish this, but looking to the declaration’s name-sake gives long-toiling social democrats a glimpse of hope in the Conservative Party’s prairie stronghold.

The NDP experienced significant growth in support in Lethbridge in the recent federal and provincial elections. It may seem like the most unlikeliest of places, but federal candidate Mark Sandilands earned 27% of the vote, nearly doubling his vote from the 2008 election (the Conservative vote dropped 10% from 2008).

In the recent provincial election, Shannon Phillips tripled her party’s support in Lethbridge-West, coming within 7% of defeating incumbent Progressive Conservative MLA Greg Weadick.

11 replies on “ndp and liberals searching for a pulse on the prairies.”

Hey Dave!

This is a great early post on the long and difficult road that the NDP (and the Liberals) must begin to travel on today (well, maybe even yesterday, or how about last week?) in the lead up to the next Federal election. I know the NDP base feels that it’s high-time for some serious reaching out to new communities of potential supporters–not only placing our ideas and histories in front of them, but learning together about what progressive politics means in the context of low voter turnout, an attendant turn to issues-based activism, and the shared belief (however shaky) that Harper’s policies and agenda (whatever it is) are unacceptable to Canadians and Westerners.

Of course, it wasn’t that the NDP forgot about the Prairies and the West (though there may be some who understandably feel that way), but for the past several years it’s become increasingly out of reach given the general perception that Harper was a strong response the alienation effect (real or imagined) the federal Liberals left in their wake.

In any case, here we are today, and there certainly is real and exciting momentum building in the Prairies. Just the other night, we held a very busy and energetic town hall regarding Bill C38 at the Arts Barns on June 27th, which focused on new strategies for outreach and building (that good, tried and tested social movement approach to politics). Linda Duncan MP for Strathcona summed it up well when she underlined the renewed energy in Edmonton and on the Prairies for a resistant and hopeful politics that will lead us up to 2015. The task now, she recognized, is to keep the issues alive inside Bill C38 and other pieces of CPC legislation. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s the task before us now.

So, here we are three (hopefully not four) years out from the next election. We know our (the NDP’s, though as you point out Dave, this applies to the Libs as well) numbers and results were not the most heartening on the Prairies in 2011. But we also know that we have a deep history of a type of politics built on listening, collaborating with various social movements (think the UFA, the Ind. Labour Party, and the LSR), and proposing progressive and hopeful alternatives.

Finally, I think there is now another important piece to add to the puzzle of the Prairies: young activists and politicos who understand, viscerally, that the status quo is not working for them. The task is not simply to recognize this diverse group of disillusioned citizens (we constantly pay lip service to low voter turnout among certain communities; we KNOW this is the case), but we must reach out to them, over and over again, and listen to their ideas for organizing, growing, and creating progressive roots in our communities. We have so much to learn in common with each other.

Shameless plug: @LdeclarationNDP (Twitter)

lethrbidgedeclaration (Facebook)

Lethbridgedeclaration.ca

Brad Lafortune

(end rant) 😉

To me, the key to NDP success in the prairies, is to recognize that there are a lot of people out here who enjoy the fruits of the labour (word chosen deliberately) of those working in the oilsands, but are also believers in climate change and socially progressive politics. It’s a hard line to straddle, but I think people are hungry for someone to do it. Maybe not enough to win a majority of seats in Alberta even on a cold day in hell, but enough to make a dent and broaden the constituency of the progressive parties to include westerners.

Until the NDP and Liberals recognize that progressive tax systems are inherently immoral because, for example, they indicate that less successful people are more entitled to money than those who earn it (a violation of property rights), they will not have success in Alberta, a place where people actually earn their money.

A lieberals election wins chances in Alberta, where we still remember the “NEP”, are as good as Dions green shaft being heralded in the Cenovus boardroom, give it up Boob Rae, don;t matter if it is you, little Justine or his sister in law mother in law stepmother Deborah Coyne and her lib-sucking brother all run together naked with Rick Mercer jumping into some CBC lake, YOU STILL WON’T WIN,, it is over, Canadians will never go back to failure and theft and graft and lies, need I go on.

Dear @Alex: the NDP are never going to accept your premise. Progressive taxation, in which those who can most afford it pay higher taxes than those who can least afford it, is at the heart of the New Democrat view of a just approach to public financing. We’re never going to get your vote either; I can accept that; we don’t need it anyway.

Graham (above) is right. The NDP needs to be able to talk about the energy economy in a way that recognizes its importance to people’s paycheques and families, recognizes we need to use that wealth to build a bridge to a greener economy, and recognizes we own those resources and can make different choices with them.

I’ve been thinking about organizing a two-day event for the NDYA on understanding the energy economy, or something, in conjunction with the Suncor workers, the enviro groups, and my own employer, the AFL, on how we get our heads around talking about energy in a way that connects with people out here. Because it’s not just Alberta – it’s also good chunks of SK and BC where the NDP needs to get it right. Anyway I am just thinking aloud about this.

Anyway, nice post, Dave, and thanks for the great comment, Graham. Now I shall brace myself for all manner of rude trolling by people bleating about the NEP. Bleat away, trollers, I’m gone on holidays for the weekend…
Shannon Phillips

Sorry Alex, but I think you’re just wrong. People who are “more successful” are very rarely so on their own; there are legal and economic institutions and structures and, probably most importantly, other people who make them so. If that wasn’t the case, everybody would be “successful” simply by virtue of working hard, then everybody would be successful. I can tell you I know a LOT of really hard-working people who aren’t what many people would consider “succesful”.

It is the state that creates the conditions and institutions that make it possible for people to acheive “success”. It is the state that provides education and training for potential employees of any enterprise.

It is the state that protects private property through things like police forces and legal instruments like torts or land titles, etc. It is the state that provides infrastructure like roads or sewers that benefit those that depend on suppliers or a mobile labour force far in excess of those who don’t.

It is the state, in Canada at least, that provides health care(although not “perfect”) at an affordable price that is certainly preferable to filling the pockets of health insurance company shareholders, and MUCH more efficiently than what we see in the US.

It is the state that upholds bankruptcy laws, which allows people to walk away from unsuccessful enterprises with little or no personal consequence, free to try again. It is the state that provides Workers’ Compensation Boards, so that companies don’t have to fear lawsuits for maintaining unsafe work sites, as they do in the United States…where in many cases, safer work sites are consequently more prevelant than in Canada.

So I think that it is MORE than reasonable that those who benefit MOST from the activities of the state, even if they don’t actually recognize it or are ideologically blind to it, should pay a larger portion of their income to the state in the form of progressive taxation.

There are VERY few people who ACTUALLY “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” without help or assistance from state institutions and a whole lot of other people.

Like it or not, branding matters. The Liberal brand in Alberta is burned beyond saving.
The current NDP federal leader is doing a fine job of burning the brand in Alberta too.
Why is branding important? Sadly, some voters give no more thought to their ballot choice than they would picking their breakfast cereal. So, NDP or Liberal: which party will be first to change their name to Fruit Loops? Or maybe you should go with something flakier.

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