One year ago, the Edmonton Journal published a letter written by Greg Stevens, in which the former cabinet minister sent Alberta’s newly elected New Democratic Party best wishes at the start of its term as government. Mr. Stevens, who served in the Assembly from 1979 to 1989 wrote that “Albertans have weathered storms before and they will rise to this change and continue to lead Canadians ahead.”
The learning curve has been steep for the new government over the past year, but Rachel Notley has faced the largest storm of her premiership this past week.
Ms. Notley has been a calm and commanding presence as the wildfires damaged the community of Fort McMurray. The Premier, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier and Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee, a registered nurse from Slave Lake who has served as a key communicator during this crisis, have been factual and compassionate in their communications with Albertans.
Clear communication has been key to the success of Ms. Notley’s daily press conferences with fire and safety officials. Ms. Notley is doing what she needs to be doing as premier: being a strong and compassionate leader for Albertans through this disaster.
Facing the wildfires that have devastated his community, including the loss of his own home, Wildrose opposition leader Brian Jean has abandoned his normally adversarial tone and has been reasonable in his support of the government’s response to the wildfire. Faced with these losses, I cannot begin to imagine what he must be going through on a personal level. Not many of us can fathom what it feels like to lose our home and much of our community to a natural disaster.
Whatever his plans for the future as leader of the opposition, Mr. Jean would be smart to recognize that the collaborative and less confrontational tone looks good on him.
Similar reflections on leadership can be made about the strengths of other elected leaders who have stepped up to help during these wildfires, including Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, whose city has opened its doors as a refuge for tens of thousands of Fort McMurray evacuees. We continue to witness a refreshing dose of humanity in our country as people from all walks of life have stepped up to help those who have fled the wildfires.
The break in hyperpartisanship is, unfortunately, not universal. Nasty Internet memes and conspiracy theories have been promoted on social media spinning wild untrue accusations against the NDP, environmentalists and ISIL.
Not unlike other natural disasters, politicians from all sides of the political spectrum have put aside their partisan differences for a moment in order to rally for Fort McMurray. It has taken a tragic event to provide a humanizing break from the increasingly hyper-partisan and polarized daily politics in Alberta.
As we move past the disaster and closer toward cleaning up and rebuilding the community, it is inevitable that the cordial feelings will break and partisanship will return, but our leaders have an opportunity to define what tone post-wildfire politics will look and feel like.