In one day, the ground shifts in Alberta politics in ways unexpected, sometimes uplifting, sometimes troubling

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On March 23, Lewis Cardinal became the first nominated federal NDP candidate in Canada for the expected 2015 election. (Photo by Ben Lemphers, used with permission.) Yesterday he stepped aside in the face of undisclosed health problems. Below: Wildrose Finance Critic Rob Anderson.

What a strange day it was yesterday, at times uplifting, at times profoundly depressing, and at times just disorienting.

In the morning, Alberta suddenly dropped most aspects of its official homophobia. This less formal kind will continue to longer for a spell, of course, but as an issue for most Albertans it’s done like the family’s dinner.

At mid-day, the Opposition Wildrose Party – supposedly to the right of the governing Tories – announced that if it’s elected, it will end the Progressive Conservative government’s war on public sector workers and their unions by repealing Canada’s most anti-union legislation.

And at the end of the day we learned that Lewis Cardinal, one of the best NDP candidates in recent memory, was after years of hard work withdrawing from the race to become Member of Parliament for the Edmonton-Centre riding because of an undisclosed health issue.

Who would have thought even a few days ago that any of these things were on the radar?

While one can’t shake the feeling they were dragged to it, kicking and screaming, in the morning Premier pro tem Dave Hancock’s Legislative caucus voted in favour of changes to provincial laws that would remove the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The rule changes will also allow transgendered Albertans to change their birth certificates without having to prove they’d had gender-reassignment surgery. All three opposition parties, including the Wildrose, embarrassed by some of its own supporters’ homophobia in 2012, were already there.

The highly political preamble to the Marriage Act, containing the restrictive definition and a meaningless grumble about this history of marriage and the foundation of society, was introduced by the government of Ralph Klein in 2000 when the issue of same-sex marriage convulsed the province.

For a couple of years now, like pretty well everywhere else in North America, no one much really cared about this any more but for a few religious extremists and angry ninnies, a disproportionate number of whom seem to have time on their hands and access to social media. For the rest of us, “live and let live” and “get on with it” are the watchwords as Alberta reaches a consensus we have other priorities more worthy of our attention than meddling in people’s personal lives.

It will be harder for the PCs to change Bill 44, a holdover from the premiership of Ed Stelmach that tries to use the Human Rights Commission as a hammer to whack teachers who dare to teach about sexuality in the classroom. But this too will come.

No sooner had that been reported than the Wildrose Party released a statement on Bill 9, Finance Minister and would-be premier Doug Horner’s odious public service pension legislation that signals the end of the progressive coalition that saved the short-lived premiership of Alison Redford in the 2012 general election.

The statement, attributed in the Wildrose news release to Finance Critic Rob Anderson, broke new ground for the party’s leadership and indicated a willingness to try to build bridges to groups they had previously eyed warily.

“As usual, the PC government’s standard operating procedure on labour relations issues is that of bullying instead of good faith negotiations,” Mr. Anderson stated.

“Wildrose has long supported the view that contracts and agreements must be respected,” he went on. “That includes the pension arrangements promised to current public sector workers and pensioners who chose their careers in the public sector based, at least in part, on the promise of the current public pension arrangement.”

“Although we feel some reforms to the current system may be needed to ensure the long term sustainability of public pensions, we believe that any such changes need to be negotiated openly and respectfully with union leadership, and that any substantial changes should only be applied to workers who have yet to be hired, rather than those already employed or retired.”

Significantly, Mr. Anderson ended by promising not just to repeal Bill 9, but to dismantle the unconstitutional Bills 45 and 46, the first of which makes even talking about illegal strikes by public servants illegal, and the second which attempted to force the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees to accept a wage freeze by circumventing the collective bargaining process. That act is in abeyance for the moment thanks to a court injunction won by AUPE while it appeals the constitutionality of the bill.

“Wildrose is committed to repealing Bill 9 if elected in 2016, along with Bills 45 and 46 which also unjustly ignore the legal rights of our public sector employees,” Mr. Anderson concluded.

This didn’t just come about without relationship building between the Wildrose leadership and that of AUPE, as first reported in this space.

Naturally, there are many in the union movement whose distrust of the Wildrose Party will make them suspicious of this promise – but it is clear and unequivocal enough, it is said here, that it would be hard for the party to back away from.

Progressive voters will have plenty to complain about if there is soon a Wildrose government in Alberta, but this position at least suggests that for the moment the party doesn’t intend to engage in open warfare with working people and public employees as the Redford-Hancock Government is doing.

Finally, around 6:30 p.m., media and bloggers were emailed the simple statement from Mr. Cardinal, who was such a promising and hardworking candidate.

“I would like to take this time to express deep appreciation to so many supporters and volunteers who have helped me in the federal riding of Edmonton Centre. Their commitment and energy demonstrates the passion for political change that is growing in Edmonton Centre and throughout our city,” Mr. Cardinal wrote.

“I have decided that due to personal and health reasons to step down as the nominated Federal candidate for the Edmonton Centre NDP. This decision was a very difficult one for me to make, but I know that a strong candidate will step forward to build the future that Edmonton Centre needs and deserves.

“I know the desire for change in Edmonton Centre is strong, and that the people here will continue to fight for the things we hold close to our hearts and the future we all wish to see.”

Less than a month ago, on March 26, Mr. Cardinal was nominated with great hope as the New Democratic Party’s first candidate for the next federal election. He had been campaigning in the riding for more than a year after a strong showing in the 2011 federal election. His announcement yesterday is very troubling, and not the first significant health setback to afflict the NDP in recent years.

The NDP will now have to scramble to find a candidate in a riding where a wide-open race was expected with Conservative MP Laurie Hawn retiring and a history of also electing Liberal members.

If yesterday proved anything it’s that the adage attributed to Britain’s Labour prime minister Harold Wilson in the 1970s, that a week is a long time in politics, considerably understates the matter. A single day can be a long time!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.
Categories Alberta Politics Canadian Politics