In the past, the media and political watchers would pay little attention to a provincial convention held by Alberta’s New Democratic Party. It is expected that all media and political watchers will be paying close attention to the debate at the NDP’s convention in Calgary next weekend.
Back in 2009, during a stint as a freelance writer, I covered the NDP convention for the now-defunct alt-weekly known as SEE Magazine. I may have been the only media representative actually in attendance at the convention.
That weekend in 2009, in a dim-lit windowless ballroom in a downtown Edmonton hotel the most contentious topic of debate was a proposal from a small group of New Democrat founders of the Democratic Renewal Project. The DRP advocated the creation of an electoral arrangement or cooperation agreement between the NDP and the Liberal Party to prevent vote splitting by progressive voters. Both opposition parties had major loses in the previous year’s election, with the NDP dropping from four to two MLAs.
The ideas put forward by the DRP sounded sensible to me at the time but were soundly rejected by conference delegates. Seven years later, the NDP are no longer debating vote splitting or electoral agreements. They are holding their first convention as Alberta’s governing party after their win in the 2015 provincial election.
Instead of a dingy hotel in downtown Edmonton, this year’s convention will be held on June 10, 11 and 12, 2016 at the swanky Hyatt Regency in downtown Calgary. Along with 54 NDP MLAs in attendance, the convention will feature keynote speeches from the Edmonton Oilers‘ Andrew Ference on Jobs and Diversification, Pembina Institute executive director Ed Whittingham on Climate Leadership, Ontario NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh on Diversity and Reducing Inequality, and Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan on Labour issues.
This will be the first NDP convention in recent memory that the mainstream media will pay much attention to and with that in mind, the party’s leadership will do their best to turn the weekend into a celebration of the NDP’s 2015 election win and accomplishments in its first year of government. The weekend includes a $200 a plate banquet and a party at the Glenbow Museum featuring Scenic Route to Alaska, The Northwest Passage and Los Moreno’s.
It feels far from the dim-lit windowless hotel ballroom in downtown Edmonton but that does not mean it will be without its acrimonious moments.
A group of party activists unhappy with NDP MLA’s support of a Wildrose Party motion calling on the federal government to scrap a planned moratorium on tankers on Canada’s Pacific coastal waters are expected to spearhead a debate on whether the motion goes against against a party policy opposing the Enbridge Corporation’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline passed at a previous convention.
There may also be debate about changing the role of organizational affiliates in the NDP. Unlike other provincial political parties, the NDP allows organizations to affiliate with their party in order to have a greater say in their leadership votes and at conventions.
These affiliates are almost always labour unions but as unions are no longer allowed to donate to political parties or pay for delegates to attend conventions, the previous existing advantages for the party and affiliate no longer exists. I am told that before the NDP banned corporate and union donations in the first law they passed in 2015, affiliated unions donated 15-cents per member per-month to the party.
Delegates will also be voting in elections for the party’s provincial executive. For some reason that is unknown and puzzling, the NDP is the only provincial political party in Alberta that does not list the names of its executive or board of directors on its website. Perhaps this will change now that the NDP is the province’s governing party.
Here is a list of who is running for the party’s four table officer positions:
President: Teacher and president of the party’s Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview constituency association Peggy Wright is the only candidate to have entered the presidential election. The position was made vacant when former president Chris O’Halloran, who had served as president since 2013, stepped down to start a job in the Premier’s Southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in Calgary.
First Vice-President: Two candidates are running for this position: labour activist and United Nurses of Alberta Labour Relations Officer Jason Rockwell and lawyer and past candidate Anne Wilson. Mr. Rockwell ran as an NDP candidate in the 2006 federal election in the Edmonton-Spruce Grove riding. Ms. Wilson ran as a provincial NDP candidate in 2008 in Banff-Cochrane and 2015 in Calgary-Foothills (against Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice). In July 2015 she ran for the NDP nomination for the Calgary-Foothills by-election but was defeated by former alderman Bob Hawkesworth.
[Note: I work with Jason Rockwell in my day job as Communications Advisor with United Nurses of Alberta. I am not an NDP member, but if I were he would certainly get my vote at this convention.]
Second Vice-President: It appears that Lou Arab may be acclaimed in his bid for re-election. Mr. Arab is a near-legendary campaign manager in NDP circles for his role in the election campaigns of Marlin Schmidt in 2012 and 2015 and Sarah Hoffman in 2010. He is a Communications Representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees – Alberta and also happens to be the husband of Premier Rachel Notley.
Treasurer: Siobhan Vipond, the Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL, is running for re-election and does not appear to be facing any challengers at this time.
I am told that more than 500 delegates have registered to attend the Calgary convention.