the left in alberta: comfortably marginalized?

A couple of weeks ago, I focused on the buzz around the right-wing Wildrose Alliance leadership contest, and candidate Danielle Smith in particular. This post focuses on Alberta’s opposition parties on “the left” – the Alberta Liberals and the Alberta NDP. As I have already written posts dealing specifically with the state of the Liberal and NDP parties, I have decided to take a look at the state of the institutional “political left” that they claim to represent.

Some people may argue that the centrist-left Liberals shouldn’t be included in the same category as the pseudo-socialist left-wing NDP (and vice-versa), but it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the two parties and the challenges and character flaws that they both face.

Since the 2008 provincial election, the Democratic Renewal Project, a group consisting of both NDP and Liberal members, has been calling for something to change. While I don’t agree with their solution – a temporary electoral coalition between the two parties that would push for proportional representation in our elections – I do respect that they are willing to break from traditional party lines and publicly call for change.

While the DRP holds hope that the two opposition parties can work together for positive change, I strongly believe that certain MLAs and individuals in the establishments of the two parties are too comfortable in the dysfunctionality of the current situation to work towards a real solution. In effect, I am becoming more convinced that as neither party in their past or current existences have proven that they are able to effectively bring political change to Alberta, their destruction is necessary for political change to take place. As long as the two parties are limited by their own partisan blinders to winning a combined total of 9 to 20 of the 83 seats in the Assembly, they will remain a tiny opposition.

I haven’t seen much evidence that the left as a movement has pride in Alberta. From a historical/political myth-building context, it appears that the political left doesn’t fit naturally in the narrative of Alberta’s story. As Mark Lisac wrote in his book ‘Alberta Politics Uncovered: Taking Back our Province‘ there are a large number of mainstream Albertans who self-identify as ‘conservatives.’ The left has allowed itself to be defined by Alberta’s narrative – the mythical land of rodeos, cowboys, red meat, and oil rigs – an image which urban academics, labour unions and environmental activists don’t easily fit into.

There are many reasons why the left continues to electorally and politically spin its wheels in Alberta, including lack of broad organizational capacity, self-interested party “leaders,” and an bizarre defeatist martyr complex, but many Albertans involved in opposition politics simply don’t show pride in their province. If I were a leader of an opposition party in Alberta (yes, I’m gawking too), I would constantly wrap myself in Alberta’s flag. At every opportunity, I would talk about how proud I am to be an Albertan – proud of our history, proud our beautiful province, and proud of what our future holds. I would talk about how strong our province is, the strength of Albertans hard working character, and I would emphasize the reality that Alberta isn’t going to realize its full potential if we allow the same tired politicians to control our Legislative Assembly.

Instead of being defined by its criticism of the governing PCs, Alberta’s opposition parties on the left should prove to Albertans that they stand for something that is more than a reaction to the actions of the governing party (or the other opposition party). By continuing to chase the flavour of the week, both opposition parties are allowing themselves to be marginalized by Alberta’s cultural and political narratives.

Days after the PCs steamrolled over the Liberals and NDP in the March 2008 election, I offered some advice to the two opposition parties:

Party archetypes in both camps really need to put aside their biases and prejudices and take a serious and objective look at why their parties are not connecting with Albertans.

A year later, I am convinced that the party archetypes in both parties are continuing down the same road that has led to their sequestration to the opposition benches. At the moment, it’s difficult to see much hope for Alberta’s Liberals and NDP. I continue to hear from a growing number of disgruntled politically moderate Albertans displeased with the governing PCs and unimpressed with the opposition parties which leads me to believe that Alberta’s political left better start standing for something real or be destroyed. Failing to do either is killing democracy in this province.

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