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

Posted on April 18, 2014, 1:57 am
10 mins

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.

11 Comments to: In one day, the ground shifts in Alberta politics in ways unexpected, sometimes uplifting, sometimes troubling

  1. Bert

    April 18th, 2014

    An interesting day in Alberta. Sad to hear Mr. Cardinal is unable to run in 2015, wish him well.
    What a move by the Wild Rose to try to win over the people who allowed the PCs to win the last election. And the good old PC MLAs still don’t get it, wow! Not that Wild Rose can be trusted on this but at least they are acknowledging this large voter group. This move, it managed correctly could be the difference between a minority and majority Wild Rose government. Scary on many levels but a definite possibility. What are the leadership hopefuls (Mr. Hughes) saying ….. let’s get ride of the government planes. Which any business person knows efficient air transport for MLA’s and government staff is a wise use of resources. The PCs continue to confirm they are out of touch with Alberta.

    Reply
  2. political ranger

    April 18th, 2014

    as I’ve said about a million times, AUPE is the most anti-union Union I’ve ever come across. That they would even consider supporting Smith and her mob says it all to me.
    Yes, yes, I know that unions are there, in part, to seek higher pay for it’s membership but equally as fundamental to the union movement is the pursuit of better working conditions, workplace health and safety, job training and a voice in decisions and events that directly affect him or her in an undertaking that constitutes a major portion of life. Do you really think Rob Anderson and the crazies who follow him around are going to support any of that?
    We have a word for people who will do anything for money, and it ain’t union. Again that strange Alberta disease of not planning for the future, of being stone-blind about tomorrow shows itself.

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  3. April 18th, 2014

    Wildrose has learned that expressing their views won’t get them elected. They’ve now realized that their goal is to gain power, and that means focusing on electoral calculus. The PC’s, with some justification, don’t really worry about the issue of gaining power, but just assume it.

    Once elected in this province, it’s not exactly clear that breaking campaign promises to voters is damaging. I don’t doubt the thinking goes about as far as next election day, followed by “… and then we all get to do what we really want”.

    Reply
  4. K. Larsen

    April 18th, 2014

    Anyone with an ounce of social concern supporting Wildrose simply because they look like the best game in town reminds me of the old US phrase describing the better dead than red crowd: “crackpot realist.”

    The Anderson quote says it all: “any substantial changes should only be applied to workers who have YET to be hired.” So are you saying the AUPE leadership is willing to sell out their younger members so the boomers can cash in? If so, what happened to equal treatment and solidarity, much less planning for the future?

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  5. J Singh

    April 18th, 2014

    ND’s don’t need a candidate or even a party now that Wildrose is doing traditional ND work:)

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  6. Collectively Lost

    April 19th, 2014

    @political ranger….this exactly how people feel about unions…rather than back a smart, moderate centrist, sensible, pro family party like the Liberals, they cavort with the PCs or now the Wild rose. Their members don’t even vote for the Dippers. All they care about is who will likely come to office to give them the best contract before the election win. Unions have lost their way to become a political force for betterment of society, for the betterment of democracy. They have largely become selfish, uncaring, callous and remorseless, towards society as a whole and steward largely to their own self interests…just like any corporate entity. I grew up in a union family and back then unions had some ethical and moral fabric, and were seen in a more respectful way. It seems in AB unions are willing to switch political flags like sock$.

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  7. Collectively Lost

    April 19th, 2014

    @Singh….if Wild rose crafts their brand precision carefully enough……they may well sink the dippers back to one seat and the WR may becomr a new big tent filled with recycled rats unless they promise up front that they will not take recycled rats….only new rats.

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  8. Northern Loon

    April 20th, 2014

    @Political Ranger and @ Collectively Lost – who pissed in your cornflakes? Unions primary goal is to secure the best possible contract for their members and then to enforce it. Sometimes in order to negotiate collective agreements unions need to develop relations with political parties and in the case of unions whose members are government employees this is even more important.

    It is up to members to educate themselves before they vote, and the idea that somehow unions can force their members to vote for a particular political party is the ballywack of right wing nut bars who ascribe way too much in the manner of the sway they have over their members when it comes to voting. It kind of seems you two have been drinking from the same vat of kool aid (as the nutbars) in your views of unions and AUPE in particular.

    I would never vote for the WR (I just don’t believe they can really ever truly move to the moderate position they try to portray themselves in) or the Liberals (the Liberals lost my vote forever when in the 90’s they trashed the PC’s for not cutting fast or hard enough, and their current leadership is, well not ready to lead), and of course the PC’s have nothing for me.

    I accept that sometimes pragmatism is a road we need to follow for a time, as long as we do not lose sight of our principles. Remember the maxim – keep your friends close and your enemies closer – sometimes unions also have to abide by this.

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  9. Pogo

    April 20th, 2014

    2 Cents would be expensive so here’s my opine for free.

    I think the AB Union movement is going to face privatization and “right to work” legislation sometime after the WRP takes control. Likely this will all begin to roll out after a strike somewhere conveniently underscores, the need to let private enterprise solve our problems and provide the excellent services with cost savings they’re so famous for. If there is a Harpcon majority concurrent to this? I’ll leave the taste of that to your imagination.
    As far as the union movement I agree with everyone here but to reply to Northern Loon (from a love hate kind of spot where unions go): it occurs to me that when pragmatism and self interest take precedent over principles one ends up appearing unprincipled and opportunistic. My preference would be to take unions right out of the mix and mandate that elections are 100% public financed and there are no donations allowed to political parties (other than their membership dues) and that activities of parties and outside groups be regulated. I very much prefer that a dollar value be assigned to each vote cast for example. In a perfect world a unions’ role would be to support the reforms and policies needed to build real representative democracy, and politics of common interest. Other than driving home to their membership how important voting for politicians that support policy objectives that promote the big picture type values that used to be the centre piece of the union movement like justice and fairness, they wouldn’t end up damaged by the quid pro quo manipulation that is so useful to the right wing wedge tacticians when they set about to tar and feather organized labour. Maybe then member dues could be re-deployed to have a more visible impact in society in well publicized active roles that are consistent with values that are inarguably good for all. We maybe could then hope that it’d be possible to improve the reputation and status of union membership while avoiding becoming a target for the political forces that only have their own interests to serve. Or at worst make it more difficult for them to hide their real motivations and goals. Then when there’s a battle that involves a clear assault on the values, put on the PPE and hit the street in front of their houses!

    Reply
  10. Pogo

    April 20th, 2014

    Meant to add that it was good to see that the Premier was able to see the perfect timing and get something done. I always though he was afflicted with more decency than most in that horrendous clown show at the leg. so congratulations for doing some good!

    Reply
  11. Barry

    April 20th, 2014

    Hahahaha. AUPE will rue the day. This is a typical strategy used in the corporate world to co-opt and discredit their unions. Did they learn nothing from the Redford alliance and what could possibly go wrong? After the election, AUPE will have no more leverage with a Wildrose government than they did with the PC’s after their private agreement with the Tom L. during the wildcat strike by prison guards. Now I know why AUPE is not affiliated with the AFL. They aren’t a union as much as they are another corporate interest willing to barter their membership to the highest bidder.

    Reply

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