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 sense of 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 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, this is a party of individuals many of whom endured the Klein era cuts. This explains much of the language used in the budget and other government statements that rejects austerity. While this sentiment is understandable, it is nevertheless a reaction to a policy environment that was commonplace in Canada at the time. Certainly Klein’s approach was different than that of Saskatchewan where the Romanov government attacked its very substantial deficit and debt by not only closing hospitals but by also raising taxes. Time will tell whether the Alberta government will be able to maintain service levels without raising taxes to levels comparable to neighbouring provinces.