On June 10-12, I attended my very first party convention in Calgary witnessing an historic meeting after over 110 years of right leaning governments. This is not to say that during some mandates, the governing party introduced radical legislation- for instance during the early mandates of the United Farmers of Alberta (1921-1935), Social Credit (1935-1971), and the Progressive Conservatives (1971-2015). All political parties in government become more conservative over time- seemingly more interested in remaining in power than shaking the boat.
My initial impressions at the event were as follows:
First the convention was well organized and classy (at the Hyatt Regency no less!). And unlike the NDP convention in Edmonton held earlier this year, controversy was avoided. Second, as Don Braid observed in the Calgary Herald, Rachel Notley stole the show. She clearly is a force of nature combining a real authenticity, a great sense of humour with a strong commitment to social justice.
Third, this is a party with a history. NDP history was celebrated on Saturday evening at a banquet with former leaders Ray Martin (1984-93), Raj Pannu (2000-04), and Brian Mason (2004-14) speaking of those preceding and succeeding themselves. Rachel Notley’s father, Grant Notley was the NDP’s leader from 1968 to his untimely death in a plane crash in 1984. The history is generally one of a struggling party in the political wilderness in a province viewed as perennially conservative and right wing.
Fourth, and this observation is impressionistic: a core constituency in the party are individuals that endured the “Klein cuts” of the 1990s. I have always felt that the acceptance of wage rollbacks and service cuts by public servants was an implicit understanding that this would never happen again. Today, it is a party closely affiliated with organized labour that is in charge and their political rhetoric strongly rejects “austerity”. One of the elephants in the room of course is how the negotiations with Alberta teachers will proceed later this year.
I recently attended a seminar hosted by the Institute of Health Economics (University of Alberta) entitled “High needs and High Cost Patients in Healthcare: How do we improve outcomes for these patients?” Government representatives bringing greetings emphasized the desirability of slowing spending and acknowledged that Alberta’s per capita spending on health care is higher than the national average. While the language is consistent with previous government’s, the recognition that social determinants of health are critical do mesh well with the new government’s attention to poverty reduction; a higher minimum wage; and investments in social housing.