Next leader of the Alberta NDP should embrace an Urban Agenda

Alberta NDP leadership candidates David Eggen, Rod Loyola and Rachel Notley.
Alberta NDP leadership candidates David Eggen, Rod Loyola and Rachel Notley.

Today is the deadline to enter the Alberta New Democratic Party leadership race. With 3 candidates having already entered the race, Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen, Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley and labour activist Rod Loyola, the Alberta NDP are having their first contested leadership race since 1996.

Advice I would offer to the next leader of the NDP (and the current leaders of the Liberal Party and Alberta Party) is to focus on where you can make gains – in the big cities.

Electoral support for the social democratic party in Alberta is largely exists within the Edmonton and Lethbridge city limits, has very limited support in rural Alberta and is almost non-existent in Calgary, the province’s largest city. In 2012, NDP candidates earned more than 10% of the vote in less than 20 constituencies and less than 5% of the vote in 27 constituencies across Alberta.

While far away from being a premier-in-waiting, the next NDP leader is in a position to lead a distinct opposition to the two conservative parties that dominate the political landscape in Alberta.

Alberta’s cities are fast growing and, in many cases, decisions made by city councils and school boards are tied to approval by provincial politicians who do not understand the reality of the growth pressures faced by municipalities.

Our province is the one jurisdiction in Canada that can afford to have the best quality roads, transit systems and public schools, but much of the authority remains in the hands of our provincial politicians.

A provincial party with a platform focused on urban issues – smart growth and public transit – and how these growth pressures impact our public school, health  care, social service and transportation systems could provide a much needed voice in the Alberta Legislature.

Note: I am not the first person to offer this advice.

5 thoughts on “Next leader of the Alberta NDP should embrace an Urban Agenda”

  1. I disagree. Look further back in rural Alberta’s history and you will find the United Farmers of Alberta. There are people in rural Alberta who care deeply about working together and building community. The right campaign could see the NDP make big rural gains, but abandoning rural Alberta means abandoning potential supporters for short term opportunism.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Elizabeth. The UFA last won an election in 1930. I’m not sure it’s a useful example. Could you elaborate?

    – Dave

  3. Good points. This is one of the reasons Rachel Notley launched her campaign in Calgary- the progressive movement is strong here but hasn’t had a lot of organization or clear leadership. There will be several “Ready for Rachel” events in Calgary this month.

  4. Hi again Dave, yes I can elaborate :-)

    The underlying point I am trying to get at is that I believe populism runs deep in rural Alberta, but populism does not belong exclusively to the right. The United Farmers were left wing populists. People often label extremism as populism, but I am using it in the sense of valuing strong communities and working together to build strong communities.

    The Reform Party were populists, yes, right wing populist, but their supporters believed in grassroots organizing and working together rather than individualism. Harper, despite his former role in the Reform Party was never a populist, he believes in top-down control rather than policy working its way up from the membership.

    The Wildrose Party thinks that the former Reform Party voters belong to them. I don’t think that is true (in terms of underlying values). The Wildrose leadership is overwhelmingly Libertarian. Libertarianism runs counter to populism in that it puts the individual at the pinnacle but populism values the community.

    I agree with you that a strong platform about building communities will attract urban voters. I disagree that it should be focused only on urban voters. Many rural voters have an even stronger drive to build strong communities, and that is rooted in the populist traditions of Alberta (on both the left and the right).

  5. Elizabeth Johannson is incorrect in her characterization of the UFA. They were a mix of right-wing populists and left-wing populists. Most of the MLAs were right-wing while many of the MPs were left-leaning, largely because they represented constituencies that were part-urban and the UFA agreed to select pro-labour candidates to convince the Canadian Labour Party not to nominate anyone. Left-wingers did manage to get control of the UFA central organization in 1930 and the UFA was probably the most important founding member of the CCF (most of the initial CCF MPs were UFA, though they all lost their seats in 1935). But the CCF made a terrible mistake by simply accepting the UFA as a member organization without requiring them to start all over again and get individuals to join the CCF. The CCF also decided that politically it could not afford to denounce the awful UFA government of Alberta. The UFA government by contrast made clear that it did not support the CCF and its right-wing economic policies that turned off most farmers and workers set the stage for Social Credit. Many workers and farmers who liked the CCF’s policies decided that it was a bogus organization since it was linked to the UFA and the UFA were the criminals who were allowing bankers to kick people out of their farms and homes. They often supported Social Credit for lack of a decent alternative rather than because they believed in its strange economic philosophy.

    I don’t oppose the idea that a progressive party should look to all communities rather than just the cities for support. But in the short term rural Alberta is a wasteland for tiny progressive parties trying to rebuild. They can’t win seats there until they have first won lots of urban seats and established that they may eventually be the party that can form government and build schools and courthouses in every community of more than six residents. Until then those communities will choose between possible winners and hope to be on the winning side

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