Edmonton New Democrat David Eggen is first to join Alberta’s only interesting political leadership race

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David Eggen at the Legislature, hanging around with your blogger. Below: the Alberta NDP Legislative caucus, from left to right, Deron Bilous, Brian Mason, David Eggen and Rachel Notley.

The latest Alberta political leadership candidate says his name means “the sharp end of the axe” in Norwegian, which would sound more sinister in this neoliberal era of needless and harmful austerity if we were taking about the boring and predictable race to lead the governing Progressive Conservatives.

Thankfully, we’re not. David Eggen, 51, the tireless New Democrat MLA for Edmonton-Calder, is the first candidate to declare officially he’s running for the leadership of the provincial NDP, the only Alberta leadership contest in which there is likely to be any drama or suspense.

So, while the stakes may be smaller at the moment, there’s bound to be more interest generated even if the race is only between Mr. Eggen and NDP House Leader and lawyer Rachel Notley, 50, the MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona who is expected to announce soon.

That said, there may be as many as four or five others in the race, required by the announcement late last month by leader Brian Mason, 60, that it was time for some fresh blood and so he’d be stepping aside in the fall. The new leader will take over after a convention scheduled for Oct. 18 and 19 in Edmonton, a little more than a month after we will all have snoozed through the Tory leadership process.

Mr. Eggen and Ms. Notley are both respected MLAs. Both could do the job well – and it will be a tough one,  because the NDP’s new leader will be expected to achieve the long-dreamed-of breakthrough that would take the party from having a caucus that could squeeze into a phone booth to again becoming a sizeable official Opposition.

For those of you too young to know what a phone both is, don’t worry about it. There are four people in the current NDP caucus, the aforementioned three and former teacher Deron Bilous, who is 38. And you never know, he may run too.

There will be those who scoff at the suggestion the NDP will ever again be the Opposition here in Alberta, but you’ve got to be an optimist to be a social democrat in this province and Mr. Eggen has exhibited that characteristic in spades.

A former schoolteacher in Alberta and abroad, Mr. Eggen was elected to represent the working class Edmonton-Calder riding in 2004, defeating incumbent Brent Rathgeber, who later resurfaced as a federal Conservative and then an Independent, about whom more will be said in this blog later this week.

But Mr. Eggen lost the riding in 2008 to the embarrassing – but extremely tall – Doug Elniski, a Tory who slid in on Ed Stelmach’s unexpectedly long coattails. In the circumstances, lesser people (like your blogger, for example) might have said to heck with politics forever. Instead, Dave Eggen knocked on doors.

Indeed, he spent so many evenings knocking on doors in the period between the 2008 election and the one in 2012 that he’s reputed to have hit every doorstep in the riding at least twice, and many of them three or more times. Whether or not that’s true, he was on enough of them to narrowly recapture the riding for the NDP in 2012, despite the Tories’ short-lived Redford Revival.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that Mr. Elniski seemed not quite to have figured out that unwise Twitter commentary could be read by everybody on the planet, or that injudicious remarks about gender relations made to high-school graduates might end up in the media. He also had some health issues, and in 2012 made the decision not to seek re-election, which in fairness was pretty unlikely under the circumstances anyway.

Meanwhile, Mr. Eggen had been spending the daylight hours as the executive-director of Friends of Medicare, where he played a significant role in stopping PC Health Minister Ron Liepert’s plan to means-test Alberta seniors’ pharmaceutical benefits, as well as playing a big role the successful fight against former Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett’s scheme to shut down Alberta Hospital Edmonton, a world class psychiatric institution.

But surely optimism is what you’d expect from someone whose grandparents emigrated from Norway in 1904 to homestead on the bald-headed prairie near Tofield – which, if you ask me, is almost the perfect definition of optimism in practice.

Mr. Eggen grew up in the Edmonton bedroom suburb of Sherwood Park – which even though it’s legally a hamlet is the first city west of Tofield – and was an Edmonton Public Schools teacher for more than 20 years. He also taught in Zimbabwe and Thailand, where his wife, Somboon, grew up.

Mr. Eggen’s grandmother, mother and wife are all nurses. One of his two daughters is studying to become a nurse. He’s served as a volunteer trustee for the Forum for Young Albertans, a member of the Board of Directors for the Canadian Health Coalition and the Chair Leaders of the Canadian Paraplegic Association.

Oh yeah, he’s a musician who played for seven years in a reggae band. Favourite reggae song? Small Axe, which sort of figures under the circumstances.

If he applies himself to this contest the way he did to winning back Calder, he will be a formidable challenger.

Other potential candidates who have been mentioned in the media and the blogosphere include Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan, Waskatenau (that’s a place, not a product) farmer Mandy Melnyk, and University of Alberta employee and union activist Rod Loyola.

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European reminder: it’s time for social democrats to stop imbibing bottled neoliberal bathwater!

Speaking of our neoliberal era of needless and harmful austerity, all the world appears to be in a tizzy tonight about how well far-right and nationalist parties have done in elections for the European Parliament

The New York Times reports, presumably reliably, that Europe’s political establishment is feeling unnerved, and termed yesterday’s ballot results an “angry eruption” by “a clutch of xenophobes, racists and even neo-Nazis.”

This is not good news, but what did the European social democratic left expect when it has been consistently acting as cheerleaders, enablers and outright advocates of the same neoliberal shock doctrine that has left people without hope or options throughout the world?

It is not just social democratic parties in Europe that have behaved this way. Sad to say, we can find examples of this foolish and doomed approach right here in Canada.

Seriously, people, what else did we expect? Maybe it’s time for the left to act like the left! Or, at the very least, to stop imbibing bottled neoliberal bathwater.

That’s what Europeans and Canadians alike need, you know. A real alternative from the left that includes investment in people and their society. Enough shilling for austerity and concentration of wealth, already!

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