PHOTO: Alberta NDP supporters. Does their party have a future? Guest poster John Ashton, a former NDP caucus staffer, says it does – if supporters are willing to work hard. Below: Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley, author John Ashton and Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Prentice.
I’m not sure I’m as optimistic as former NDP caucus staffer John Ashton, who in this guest post explains why he thinks Alberta New Democrats can profit from the implosion of the Wildrose Party opposition and the cynical move of its leaders to the Progressive Conservative benches, but I certainly hope he’s right. — DJC
By John Ashton
An awful lot of New Democrats are asking if the Tory tomfoolery with Wildrose MLAs should cause the Alberta NDP faithful to be filled with horrific anxiety or gleeful, shameful, joy. The answer, as is so often the case, is neither.
To be sure, on a day-to-day basis, NDP life will be a little easier. With no other decently organized opposition party, my former caucus colleagues will have a much easier time grabbing column inches on a daily basis in terms of communications.
But what’s really left at the feet of New Democrats is potential, and nothing more.
Forty-four per cent of Albertans voted for the Progressive Conservatives in 2012. Many of those people remain loyal to the PC brand, to be sure. But a large minority also voted against right-wing extremism, personified by then-Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.
Now that extremism will be sitting front and centre in the PC caucus, against those voters’ wishes.
Thirty-four per cent of Albertans voted Wildrose in 2012. A large segment of those people are hardline conservatives, to be sure. But a large minority voted to end an arrogant dynasty, personified by Allison Redford, and now (perhaps deservedly) the smug Jim Prentice.
By default, many of these people simply won’t vote in 2015-2016. Ms. Smith and Mr. Prentice couldn’t have demoralized them more effectively if they worked on it for years.
But that’s not the inevitable result. And that’s where the potential for the NDP arises.
New Democrats have seen adversity that makes what the Wildrose is going through seem like a bump in the road. When the NDP had no MLAs, no money, and barely any support, they lived off of nothing but their principles and their integrity. And they survived.
After these voters have watched two parties toss aside their integrity and principles like so much trash, the NDP’s decades-long commitment to their principles may be the only thing that could cajole back to the school gym or church basement to vote again.
But it won’t be easy. They won’t because of clever tweets barely viewed, or Journal stories skipped over for the sports sections. It won’t happen through clever communications tricks or dull policy symposia.
New Democrats are going to have to take their case directly to doorsteps of these voters and make their case. The party has to train the organizers to facilitate this increased voter contact. And donors are going to have to open up their wallets as much as their PC counterparts to pay for it.
It’s simple to say, but it’s a herculean task that requires thousands of participants. Anything short of that will end with only two to four seats again for New Democrats – and that may be enough for second place!
But why would you want leave all that potential on the table?