Don’t expect an NDP cold war between Jagmeet Singh’s federal New Democrats and Rachel Notley’s Alberta caucus

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PHOTOS: Jagmeet Singh, whose campaign to lead the national New Democratic Party came to a successful conclusion yesterday. (Photo: Below: Alberta NDP Leader and Premier Rachel Notley, former Alberta Progressive Conservative premier Alison Redford, and former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith.

So, it’s Jagmeet Singh, and decisively.

But don’t expect many hints from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s 55-member New Democrat caucus indicating how they feel about the new federal NDP leader declared elected yesterday.

Ms. Notley’s caucus would be too tightly disciplined for lips that loose on a normal Monday after a significant party vote like this, let alone in the aftermath of a vehicle attack in Edmonton that police are now describing as a “lone wolf” terrorist action.

As a commenter on this blog observed shrewdly yesterday afternoon, Ms. Notley’s job today will be to channel German Chancellor Angela Merkel and get ahead of “the assault on reason” the attack is bound to provoke, and indeed already has.

Mr. Singh at one point was considered by Alberta caucus insiders to be the federal leadership candidate Alberta’s New Democrats could best work with on the pipeline file. Later, as he shifted toward a greener stance in the face of pressure from leadership candidate Niki Ashton, that hope was transferred to Charlie Angus, to no avail in the event of the vote count.

Nevertheless, don’t expect the Alberta New Democrats to openly feud with the federal party, even if provoked – and there is no certainty that will happen, because Mr. Singh to appears to be a savvy operator capable of protecting all his flanks, just as Ms. Notley has already established she has a subtle and flexible strategic mind.

Ms. Notley will doubtless be attacked by the United Conservative Party for anything any New Democrat says anywhere that could be taken as being a slap at Alberta’s wishes. But such pro forma rhetoric will not be where Alberta’s 2019 election is won or lost, and everyone on both sides knows it.

In truth, such situations are nothing new in Alberta. It’s just that they have usually happened on the right for the simple reason that, hitherto, New Democrats have never been in power in Edmonton and they still haven’t been in Ottawa.

So don’t expect internal NDP disagreements to slip into the open, at least on the Edmonton end, as the fight between the Conservative Party of Canada then led by prime minister Stephen Harper and the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta then led by premier Alison Redford did in 2012.

Alert readers will recall that in the lead-up to the April 23 Alberta election that year, Mr. Harper’s CPC had been all but openly campaigning for the Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith, ably assisted by mainstream media, which was full of paeans to the glory of the Wildrose and the inevitability of its victory. Even normally sensible commentators drank the Kool-Aid in the hours before the election with florid premature predictions of the party’s death.

When Ms. Redford pulled off a convincing victory anyway, cold war broke out between the CPC and the PCs, with the provincial Tories ending the automatic welcome the once extended to members of federal riding associations on the grounds so many of them were likely to be perfidious Wildrosers.

Even so, it never went much farther than that, though it might have, had Ms. Redford’s troubles not continued to deepen as the clock ran out on her political career.

Oddly, when the PCs fell to another talented female politician on May 5, 2015, no one on the right or in the media saw it coming because the attack came from the left – although, if anyone had actually been paying attention, they would have remembered that’s always been the direction whence epochal change has come in Alberta.

Mr. Singh’s greatest strength is his demonstrated ability to raise money, credibility in the suburbs and general popular support. Even die-hard New Democrat traditionalists will likely forgive him for sounding too much like a Liberal if he succeeds with those tough jobs.

This possibility had CPC boosters in the mainstream media rubbing their hands with glee yesterday, predicting the well-dressed Mr. Singh can steal enough support from our equally dapper Liberal prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to let a colourless apparatchik like Andrew Scheer slip into power.

However likely that is, my guess is that the provincial New Democrat brain trust here in Alberta will be crossing their fingers that if Ms. Ashton could push Mr. Singh to left in a fight for committed party votes, the electorate will be able to push him enough back toward the centre to smile on a pipeline or two.

It may or may not be a realistic hope. In the mean time, don’t expect a cold war on the Alberta left like the one the right waged before the reverse hostile takeover of the PCs by the Wildrose Party was arranged in the back rooms of the Manning Centre.

Categories Alberta Politics Canadian Politics