Fort Mac fire overshadows an earthshaking political anniversary – the NDP’s election one year ago today

Posted on May 05, 2016, 2:01 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Rachel Notley smiles moments after learning she was about to become Alberta’s first NDP Premier on the evening of May 5, 2015. Below: Part of the crowd on hand for the swearing in of the NDP Cabinet on the steps of the Legislature on May 24, 2015, and flames yesterday over the city of Fort McMurray, now evacuated by its close to 90,000 residents (CBC Photo).

One year ago today, Premier Rachel Notley and her New Democratic Party government swept in to power in Alberta.

But celebration of Alberta’s unexpected and historically earthshaking Cinco de Mayo moment – and, of course, other emotions too on the part of those who don’t support the NDP government – is bound to be muted today in the wake of the continuing fire catastrophe in Fort McMurray.

May24SwearingAt least for the moment, virtually all Albertans feel the same emotions and wish to pull together in support of the close to 90,000 residents of the northern city who are sleeping in strange beds, or no beds at all, tonight.

A week ago, I suppose, Alberta New Democrats were planning a celebration. Instead, a grim Ms. Notley and her officials are dealing with the chaotic flight from the massive fire by the entire population of the northeastern Alberta city that is the hub of the province’s already economically buffeted oilsands industry.

As a result, there will be no partying today – proving, if nothing else, that the late Harold Wilson, 1970s Labour prime minister of the United Kingdom, had it right when he observed that a week is a long time in politics.

A few days from now, many Albertans will begin to ask themselves how a modern city of 90,000 could be so heavily damaged by a forest fire – and could the same thing happen to their communities? Soon after the search for answers to those interesting questions begins, human nature being what it is, political affairs will resume in Alberta.

When that happens, the political scene will likely revert to its new political normal, in which the two principal conservative parties try to outdo each other to stirring up outrage over the NDP policy, unusual by recent Canadian standards, of responding to an economic slowdown with stimulus, rather than spending cuts. They will also soon be battling one another and several pretenders about who would be the best to lead a reunited conservative movement.

fort-mcmurray-fireAmidst all this, after a year in government that at times seemed pretty rocky, the NDP will be seeking a way to return to power in 2019 – and in that regard, I suppose, the government’s response to the fire in the Opposition Wildrose Leader’s home riding is an opportunity to impress Albertans, or do the opposite.

A previous government’s response to another natural disaster in another Wildrose leader’s riding, the flood of June 2013, seems not to have helped that government very much – or the Wildrose opposition either.

The prevailing narrative in the now-openly-partisan mainstream media and in conservative circles, where many activists appear to talk to no one but themselves, suggests the NDP government is finished already – an unlikely story at this stage of any government’s mandate.

Personally, I think many conservatives of all stripes in this province are in a state of fury that approaches apoplexy. They still can’t quite believe that they didn’t win the election of May 5, 2015. After all, they’d had the run of the place for 80 years, if you count the Social Credit years, and they’d come to think that state of affairs was what God intended.

As Postmedia Edmonton political columnist Graham Thomson shrewdly put it in a recent column, “this isn’t just the one-year anniversary of the NDP winning power, it’s the one-year anniversary of the PCs losing power after four decades in the driver’s seat. That has made it a long year for the PCs learning to survive on a bitter diet of humble pie and crow.”

Sometimes this borders on hilarious, as when a right-wing hysteric employed by Postmedia concluded that “the NDP don’t like Alberta,” because, you know, they don’t continue to implement bankrupt conservative policies.

This may partly explain the bitter intramural battles among conservatives over how best to unite the right – which all of them seem to believe with charming faith is the solution to all of their problems, as long as their crowd gets to choose the leader. A speaker for a unite-the-right effort involving conservative patriarch Preston Manning argued recently the Wildrose Party is too closely associated with rural-based extremists ever to form an Alberta government.

As for recent solid evidence of what Alberta voters are actually thinking one year into the NDP’s majority mandate, there isn’t much.

There have been two by-elections in traditionally conservative Calgary ridings. The Wildrose Party won one, the PCs the other. The Alberta Liberals, despite having only one seat in the Legislature, did surprisingly well in the second vote, perhaps enjoying a Trudeau Bounce. The NDP wasn’t disgraced in either, though, despite the efforts of the Usual Suspects to make it seem that way.

A murky recent Environics survey says Ms. Notley is one of Canada’s most trusted premiers – but, unhelpfully, provides no comparative figures to back up this claim.

A Mainsteet demon-dialler poll in February showed the Wildrose leading with 33 per cent, followed by the PCs with 31 and the NDP with 27 – which is hardly the collapse the right predicts when they’re not forecasting an NDP victory if the right doesn’t unite.

A poll by a major pollster was rumoured to be ready to be published today, but it hasn’t appeared yet and may not, given the intense coverage of the Fort Mac forest fire.

But it’s rumoured results are bizarre – 32 per cent for the PCs, 26 per cent for the Wildrose, 22 per cent for the NDP and 15 per cent for the Liberals. If these figures are right, and there really is a poll saying this, it suggests the pollster (whoever that may be) has somehow confused voters into telling their federal preferences.

Meanwhile, the NDP is moving ahead on policies that may drive right-wingers crazy, but are capable of winning considerable voter support – including refusing to give in to the destructive demands of the austerians, continued support for public health care and education, environmental policies that appear to mean what they say, and even the possibility of an end of Alberta’s insane industrial tax system, which shovels hundreds of millions of dollars into rural municipalities and leaves towns and cities struggling to maintain infrastructure.

In 2014, the Edmonton Journal reported recently, “this meant that out of the total of $1.9 billion, $1.8 billion went to county governments representing just 15 per cent of the population.” The remaining $100 million was split between the 85 per cent of the population that lives in urban centres!

Meanwhile, though, the Fort Mac fire continues to burn out of control, a province-wide state of emergency prevails and Albertans – with plenty to argue about eventually – face another difficult but united day today.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

16 Comments to: Fort Mac fire overshadows an earthshaking political anniversary – the NDP’s election one year ago today

  1. Ernie

    May 5th, 2016

    Unless conservatives unite under one banner, the NDP are headed for another majority in 2019. It’s time for all people who are tired of this extremist, socialist government to come together and rise up against our oppressors!

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      May 5th, 2016

      Yes, let’s replace this extremist socialist government with an extremist fascist government. Like that’s a good trade. Obviously, Ernie is part of the “kudatah” crowd.

      Go Rachel! Happy anniversary.

      Reply
    • brogan

      May 5th, 2016

      You’re a hyperbolic idiot upset that your camp of greedy, bigoted assholes lost supremacy. You are not oppressed, you are an oppressor denied power.

      Reply
  2. ronmac

    May 5th, 2016

    No doubt there will be some commentators among us who will look upon these fires as proof positive of God’s displeasure with the province going NDP.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      May 5th, 2016

      The other way to look at it is that God is displeased with conservatives who didn’t try hard enough and lost the election as a result of their sloth.

      Reply
  3. Farmer B

    May 5th, 2016

    The tragedy unfolding in Northern Alberta is difficult to comprehend. I find statements by Tom Moffatt who ran for the NDP and lost and Elizabeth May leader of the federal green party essentially saying we are getting what we deserve as not helpful. Certainly from the Premier’s perspective it changed her plans and has created hardship for many. The aging of our boreal forests creates an explosive environment in such a dry spring. I hope all involved are safe and as Albertans we can come together and work to rebuild. Have a good day:-)

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      May 5th, 2016

      Stop lying. Elizabeth may never said that. She mentioned in passing that global warming is a factor. She is right!

      Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      May 8th, 2016

      Who the heck is “Tom Moffatt”? Did you mean to refer to federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair? You don’t have any credibility if you can’t even get the names of our politicians right.

      Reply
  4. political ranger

    May 5th, 2016

    … many Albertans will begin to ask themselves how a modern city of 90,000 could be so heavily damaged by a forest fire – and could the same thing happen to their communities?
    Good questions!
    The answers are illuminating. When you build your town in the middle of a forest one shouldn’t be too surprised that a ‘forest fire’ will sometimes take a bite.
    For that reason forestors and forest researches have, for many decades now, been conducting research into how best to prevent the advance of a raging forest fire. There are surprisingly a number of very effective treatments that will slow the advance and calm the ferocity of a raging forest fire.
    In Alberta we have had the FireSmart program for 10 – 15 years now . It is based on implementing these treatments. The feckless and recently disbanded SRD was charged with it’s roll-out. And guess what? Typical of the Klien era incompetence in the public service nothing has been accomplished under this FireSmart program. At least nothing substantive on the ground.
    For sure there has been many tens of millions dollars spent, many committees struck, many expenses paid, even I dare say some careers built. But nothing worth a plugged nickel out on the landscape.
    You will note that in all the endless air-time over this latest disaster in Fort Mac that the mumbling, bumbling 100% confident fools that ‘managed’ fires in the past are nowhere to be seen. All, it seems, of the senior decision-makers and mangers in this latest fire storm have accents from away. For this reason alone one can remain hopeful and optimistic that damage to lives and property will be minimized.

    Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      May 6th, 2016

      re: ‘nothing has been accomplished under this FireSmart program. At least nothing substantive on the ground.’

      FWIW The forestry/firefighting spokesperson answered a media question at this morning’s (Friday) briefing about what could or should have been done to fireproof the area immediately around Fort Mc.

      His answer: Because of the exceptionally severe dryness of the forest fuel in the region, no fireproofing would have prevented this fire from getting into Fort Mc.

      FWIW… just sharing…I don’t know anything myself on this issue.

      But…I hope the AB media and opposition parties pursue this issue further.

      If this is in fact the case, that as forests more often become this dry, and thus it becomes impossible to protect human settlements with any sort of forest management/fire proofing, then it seems to me there needs to be major upgrades to emergency evacuation plans of all cities, towns, villages in any forested areas of AB.

      Reply
      • political ranger

        May 6th, 2016

        Yes I have spotted the man in the bright yellow uniform a few times over the last couple days. He is calm and well-spoken which does wonder for Alberta’s image.
        From the comfort of my air-conditioned office I hesitate to say what would or would not have happened on the fireline. That fire grew by 15,000 hectares yesterday; it’s safe to say that a fire of this ferocity is a force of nature that man’s best efforts and intentions will have little influence over.
        Nonetheless, forestors, around the world and across many decades have studied the effects of different stand treatments on fire intensity. There is little doubt that some of these treatments have remarkable ability to substantially reduce fire intensity; from a raging crown fire to sporadic ground fire in just 3 tree-lengths. Not in all cases and not all the time; this is a force of nature after all.
        There is enough evidence to warrant serious attention to these treatments, hence the FireSmart program. Problem is this program requires long-term manual labour. Many, many men and women for many, many weeks and months, all across the province where there are communities in the forest.
        This is not a program that can be accomplished by a bunch of bureaucrats setting up committees and going to meetings, nor can it be accomplished by awarding some contracts to well-placed equipment operators. No, this can only be accomplished by long-term investments and supports for manual labour, lots and lots of manual labour. With all that entails. Management, supervision, OH&S standards, labour relations; none of these are the strong suit of the powers that be in this province. There is very little support for or experience with a well-managed community labour force; it’s just so much easier to keep it all undercover with a few well placed bureaucrats and equipment owners.
        I’m with you Sam. I hope this gets pursued much further. There is no reason to think that this is the worst we’ll see; summer has only just begun.

        Reply
  5. Expat Albertana

    May 5th, 2016

    The polls are encouraging, insofar as they predict a continued split of the vote on the right. Hopefully that finding about the Liberals is some kind of error. Notely in ’19!!

    Hope everyone in Ft. Mac is OK. I did my duty as an expat Albertan and donated to the Red Cross.

    Reply
  6. Pogo

    May 6th, 2016

    I’m hoping our host can do a little favour in the form of a PSA.
    Don’t ride your ATVs in tinder dry conditions. Don’t toss your butts. Don’t go for a bush party with the drunken burning man fire surrounded by your mad max 4x4s. In other words? Smarten up! It’s dry out there.

    Reply

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