14 April 2016

Supporting two NDPs

Like many members of the federal NDP, I support a shift back to socialism from wherever it is we have drifted. The now famous (or infamous) Leap Manifesto may help in that regard. Re-establishing the NDP as a social democratic party would give its members a sense of direction and purpose and would be good for the country. Canada needs a left-wing option to provide the political spectrum with a proper balance, particularly when the Conservatives have shifted so far to the hard (or is it Harper) right.

I also support the Alberta NDP, a party that can't afford to be fully social democratic. If it is to re-elected in 2019, a goal of the greatest importance, it must adhere to a moderate centre-left approach.

It has achieved some quite remarkable things in one short year. It unseated a conservative government in the most conservative province in the country. Since then, among other things, it has established a gender-balanced cabinet, banned corporate and union donations to political parties, moved toward a minimum wage of $15 an hour, raised taxes for corporations and high income earners, and introduced occupational health and safety and Workers’ Compensation Board coverage for farm workers.

And it has introduced probably the best climate change plan in the country. The plan includes a carbon tax, a cap on tar sands emissions and a phasing out of coal-fired electrical plants. Will it be enough to deal with global warming? Almost certainly not, but it's an impressive first step.

When Premier Notley publicly presented her government's Climate Leadership Plan, environmentalists stood side by side with oil executives, representatives of First Nations, academics and politicians. This is a scene I never thought I'd see anywhere, least of all in Alberta, and I doubt any politician other than Rachel Notley could have pulled it off.

To understand why the party can't go further at this time requires an understanding of the oil industry. The industry isn't, as many on the left seem to think, just a bunch of fat cat capitalists. It is that in part, but more importantly it is tens of thousands of ordinary working people—men and women, engineers, roughnecks, secretaries, janitors, etc.—who not only depend on the industry for a living (and it is one of the most rewarding industries to work for) but are proud of what they do, proud of helping us heat our homes and drive our cars. They are not about to be told they have to leap into unknown territory. They might accept a brisk walk toward a green future, step by step, but today they have to put bread on the table and that means a job, and that means a healthy oil industry. That's the reality of Alberta politics.

By the end of this month, Alberta will have the only NDP government in the country. That makes it the most important NDP in Canada and Rachel Notley the most important member of the party. The federal party should continue with its search for its social democratic soul, but it must also show the greatest respect to its Alberta brothers and sisters. At the moment, when it comes to the power to actually make change, they are the only thing the NDP has going for it.

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