Sunday, June 07, 2015

Surprise Alberta NDP government victory has few lessons for BC NDP

Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley and cabinet
Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday May 12, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"Always in Alberta there is a fresh wind blowing." 

Nellie McClung 1873-1951

There's a rush by journalists, pundits and party activists to find big lessons British Columbia's New Democratic Party should learn from Alberta's astonishing NDP majority government victory last Tuesday.

But a closer look at the fresh wind Premier-elect Rachel Notley used to blow away the ruling Alberta Progressive Conservatives shows that very few lessons apply to B.C.

So while BC NDP opposition leader John Horgan can rightly be extremely happy with what seemed an impossibility just months ago -- social democrats running oil-rich Alberta -- his party shouldn't presume its neighbours' surprise success can be copied here.

The political differences between Alberta and B.C. are far greater than any similarities.

First, Alberta's PCs were years past their expiry date after a 44-year reign, despite having a new premier in Jim Prentice for less than a year.

In fact, the right-wing Wildrose Party under then-leader Danielle Smith was expected to defeat the Conservatives in the 2012 election but bozo eruptions from Wildrose candidates scared off voters at the last moment, leaving Alison Redford the PC premier until she self-destructed.

In B.C.'s 2013 election, the Liberals had been in power for 12 years -- just a quarter of the Alberta PC period -- and Premier Christy Clark had already been in office for two years as well as deputy premier from 2001 to 2005.

Second, the defection of Smith and other MLAs to the PCs looked brilliant at first but actually sewered both parties, especially after PC members in Smith's riding rejected her as a candidate.

It smacked of opportunism and entitlement, and also left Wildrose with only a few remaining, shell-shocked MLAs and a new, little-known leader, Brian Jean, with no seat in the Legislature -- ruling it out as an alternative government to many.

And that meant the Alberta NDP was the only option for those tired of Tory rule.

Different political climates

Conversely, B.C.'s opposition NDP had no such soap opera and has been either the official opposition or government party since 1941, including its predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation until 1961.

Third, Notley had a caucus of just four MLAs when the election began and had never been in a cabinet; Albertans clearly were willing to overlook legislative experience completely and risk learning on the job in order to get rid of the Conservatives.

By comparison, BC's NDP had 36 MLAs going into the 2013 election, many with experience in government and years in opposition to prepare them as a ready alternative -- but B.C. wasn't willing.

Fourth, Alberta's strong right-wing split into two parts -- PCs and Wildrose -- many years ago, leading to an NDP chance to win power. Many Alberta NDP MLAs won their seats with 40 per cent of the vote or less due to PC-Wildrose splits.

B.C.'s right-wing remains coalesced in the BC Liberal Party, having successfully dispatched the BC Conservative Party attempt to play a major role under then-leader John Cummins prior to 2013.

Fifth, Prentice brought in an extremely unpopular Alberta budget and then made himself even more unpopular with a series of gaffes, like telling voters to "look in the mirror" when asking why the province was in economic trouble.

Oil rich Alberta ran six consecutive deficit budgets and even though Prentice's budget projected a $248 million surplus, it would turn to deficit in 2015 due to falling oil prices. And taxes went up for consumers but not corporations.

By contrast, the BC Liberals eked out a balanced budget once again -- albeit by a fire sale of government property -- but a fire sale is better than the firestorm Alberta's finances caused.

Lastly, Notley, whom I know from her past role at the Health Sciences Association of B.C. and the BC NDP government, is an incredibly impressive person who clearly connected with Albertans to overcome fear of the NDP.

But Notley's success cannot be attributed solely to her great leadership and the excellent campaign run by BC NDP veteran Gerry Scott.

The Alberta NDP victory truly required an amazing alignment of the political planets to happen -- B.C.'s NDP will need a different strategy if they are to thank their lucky stars after a win in 2017.



scotty on denman said...

All political success depends, figuratively, on "planetary alignment"; successful politicians just have to show up at the right time and place (which is one reason why fixed election dates should be repealed: Oppositions need to be ready to assume government at a moments notice instead of polishing policy for "The Big Day"). Oppositions naturally try to contrast with government, but spending an entire campaign trying to look different at the expense of citing the government's record ignores one of the basic purposes of elections: holding government to account. Are there really no lessons for BC in Notley's win?

Parliamentary experience isn't a prerequisite for membership, and that's a good thing. Expertise we want in bureaucrats. What might be characterized as "expertise" in longtime parliamentarians is what self-entitled old battle-axes would have us believe. As far as most citizens are concerned, no expertise appears evident or required in parliament. In any case, it certainly wasn't a issue in Alberta.

The strength of the Alberta PC party was the diversity of conservatism it accommodated, including even lefties who supported it to beggar Wild Rose; the party did not, therefore, split into two with the departure of nascent WR elements. Prentice's budget was only a minor bugbear; instead, it was his acceptance of prodigal WR MLAs that damned his government because---admittedly along with the corporate-favouring budget---it chased most of those moderate-to-leftish supporters away to the only alternative available, the NDP. Imagining the PCs were two halves reunited by readmission of the WR MLAs was Prentice's biggest mistake. It reminds that tactical deployment is often as important as policy or ideology: before scaring them off, much of his party's support came from voters deployed inside the big PC tent to tactically stave off a WR win, useful so long's party policy didn't swing too far right. The budget did swing somewhat to the right, but readmission of WR MLAs assured even farther shifts to the right would soon follow.

Do you suppose if Cummins had been a stronger campaigner, more soft voters might have come out for the NDP to stave off a BC Con win or a right-wing coalition? Anyways, it wasn't a spectrum-degree contrast between these two contenders for the right-wing vote, it was ethics, and in this, Cummins was too inarticulate (or poorly advised), while Dix was duty-bound to affect his "positive campaign" which would not attack the unethical BC Liberal record.

BC Liberals will brag about supposedly balanced budgets, but this hardly contrasts with the Alberta pre-election situation because BC Liberals are liars, and everybody knows it. If the NDP had hammered them with their outrageously disgraceful record, they could have presented a surplus in the $ ka-dillions and everybody would understand it was another lie. And maybe they might have lost to the NDP.

If there's a lesson for the BC NDP, it's one they should have by now gotten from themselves. Other than that, Notley ran an essentially non-ideological, pragmatic campaign which didn't include a well-meaning but woefully misplaced electorate-education program about being "positive" during a political campaign.

G West, Victoria said...

No more convincing here than it was in each of its previous incarnations - however, I'm not going to re-post all my earlier comments here - just suggest that interested readers search out your facebook site and your Tyee article to see why the ideas you're advancing are clearly NOT NDP policy and, for all intents and purposes a defence of a worn out system which no longer works for anyone but a few political insiders.

DPL said...

A lot of people don't vote for people, they vote to get rid of the ones in power

Unknown said...

Please remember the BC Liberals are not liberals, they are "Liberals in Name Only" - LINO's. Or maybe just opportunists looking for power and payoffs.

Anonymous said...

G West blurted: "just suggest that interested readers search out your facebook site and your Tyee article to see why the ideas you're advancing are clearly NOT NDP policy"

Can anyone believe this guy? Not NDP policy? Is he searching out non-conformists of the NDP? Does he snitch on those who disagree with NDP policy to the NDP's politburo? What's the next step, Bill gets a midnight knock on the door and a demand to see his NDP credentials? The last time a left wing political party had a secret police was the East German Communists with the Stasi.

What does this guy do? Check NDP membership cards at the ferry terminal too?

Anonymous said...

"Please remember the BC Liberals are not liberals, they are "Liberals in Name Only" - LINO's. Or maybe just opportunists looking for power and payoffs."

Old news. "New Democrats" aren't exactly "new" and in some ways not Democratic (they do have an affirmative action policy in ridings where they encourage the planting of women candidates over men candidates.

What's "new" in "New Democratic"? They haven't been a "new" party since 1968.