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.

The leader they voted for has now decided to immerse herself in that same arrogant dynasty.

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.

As columnists are already pointing out, Rachel Notley personifies such integrity and principled values. Rightly so, as she’s spent a lifetime working on it.

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?

Join the Conversation


    1. I dealt with that in my August guest post, but …

      Brian Topp, when he ran for NDP leadership and visited Edmonton, had an interesting theory:

      Alberta does change governments. Not often, but it happens. And when it does, it always take a minuscule party and gives it successive huge majorities because they generally suddenly want a change.

      This is true. the UFA, Social Credit, and PC’s were all small caucuses when they were very unexpectedly catapulted into government.

      Topp goes on to say that the same is possible for the NDP in Alberta, much as the Federal NDP did in Quebec. Which is, at least, mathematically correct and historically precedented.

  1. Does the NDP have a future in Alberta? It depends on what your definition of future is. If by future you mean form the next government alone with either a minority or majority, the answer is no. If you mean winning fewer than a dozen seats on a consistent basis, then maybe.

    The fact of the matter is, the only way the NDP can be more influential is to present candidates in select ridings and strategically collaborate with the Liberal party. Heck, they wouldn’t even have to merge, just stop splitting the votes.

    Ideally though they should consider putting their pride aside for the greater good and join the liberals in forming a new party or merge to unite the left and centre left. That way they could at least win enough seats to approximate the popular vote that the liberals and NDP combined normally get during elections.

    So, what does success mean to NDPers? Maybe the Albertans who really need their help will never know since the party’s leader(s) can’t seem to set their pride aside.

    And just to be fair all of the above reproaches also apply to the liberal party too. Set aside your petty differences and help improve Alberta for Albertans instead of letting the PC party (aka the oil party) stomp on us.

    1. “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.”

      Showing the same lack of principle as Jim Prentice and Danielle Smith would pretty much kill off Rachel Notley’s only advantage, communications-wise.

      I advise you dispense with the notion that the NDP refuse to capitulate out of any sense of arrogance. It’s purely out of principle. They’ve been a separate entity from the Liberals for 80 years for a reason, and it’s a massive values difference on issues like housing, oil sands management, patronage, and economics in general. To say nothing on follow-through.

      You can feel free to disagree with the principles or claim they’re not important, but you’ll never convince a New Democrat of that.

      The kind of back-room shenanigans you’re suggesting got thoroughly debated and rejected by grassroots NDP membership (an opportunity neither afforded to PC’s or Wildrose members) in their 2008 and 2009 conventions. On both occasions, it was rejected by 80%+.

      And even if they did, history (and metrics) tells us that when you take away someone’s values off the ballot, they don’t do what the media and chattering classes think they should, they just don’t vote.

      Like a who bunch of WIldrose and PC voters are in danger of doing ….

      1. Well, John, as long as you are happy with a never-ending Conservative ruling elite, stick with your principles. They’ll get you nowhere good. Sure, the NDP could double their seats from 4 to 8, and declare a “major victory”, but it means diddly squat. There will still be no creation of policies that make this a more progressive (and better) province.

        The truth is, stick an NDPer and a Liberal in a room together and they’ll agree on 80% of policies. Compare that with next to 0% of the Conservatives. So both parties will go on, piddling away, at being great people with great policies going nowhere.

        Alberta isn’t like any other province. We haven’t swung back and forth between ruling parties election after election. And by splitting the progressive vote, you negate these voters the opportunity of actually have policy enacted…. ever.

        It’s worth remembering that in 1993 the Liberals and NDP combined got 50.7% of the vote… versus the PCs at 44%. And the PCs went on to form a majority government, with 51 seats.

        How many times do these parties have to stick their hand in the fire to learn the consequences?

  2. Tried this before and it crashed. Second try…

    First things first – Dave, does this mean this is the end of funny, copyright-free pictures with the funny comments?

    Second, I agree that many Wildrose supporters will sit on their hands next election- the trick is to identify the progressive protest-vote part and get them to change their mind (both about voting and about who to support on the progressive side).

    Third, and I hate to have to say this, but I fear it is the elephant in the room. Some of the reactionary elements in Alberta will try and blame the provinces recent political problems on the gender of two of the recent leaders as a way to divert attention from the stinking, rotting conservative pile that is the real problem. They will try and claim, subtly or not so subtly, that governing the province is a man’s job and that recent events indicate that women cannot be trusted with the reigns of power. While we here all know this to be BS, I think the NDs need to be prepared for this when knocking on doors.The message needs to be pushed (and pushed hard) that the issue is political ideology, not gender, and that recent events have shown quite clearly that (a) the Conservative/Wildrose split was really just political theatre and (b) conservatives)will abandon you when it suits them.

    1. Expat: “Does this mean this is the end of funny, copyright-free pictures with the funny comments?” I hope not. As you can see, the captions are still there, unsatisfactorily and somewhat confusingly placed at the top of the copy. That is the short-term work-around, while we look for a widget that will allow us to place the caption on the picture. Failing that, I’m open to suggestions. DJC

    2. 1. David is way better at coming up with funny pics. I wouldn’t dare to presume.

      2. I think these people are ideologically populists. They created the Reform party and the WildRose, but they also voted for Ray Martin, at least in northern Alberta. I think Notley can appeal to them better than a Calgary banker with shaky values.

      3. Gender ALWAYS is an issue in political canvassing, sad to say. I think it’s improved a little since I got my start in the 1997 federal election campaign for Alexa McDonough, but by no means cured. And having never been a female political party leader, I suspect I’m largely unqualified to comment further.

  3. Does the NDP have a future? Given what has happened over the last year, I wouldn’t rule out anything at this point. People are still tired of the PC’s and the main alternative has just blown up. I suppose at this point the odds greatly favour the PC’s continuing to govern, but I think people are still looking for a viable alternative. I suspect the coming budget cuts may alienate the more progressive voters who previously voted for the PC’s and a lot the Wildrose supporters will not embrace the PC’s. At this point, I think the best chance for change lies in the three more progressive parties working together somehow or at least trying not to split the vote.

  4. “Coalition.” If you prepare the voters early enough and not spring it on them, a coalition is an acceptable form of government. Even an “opposition coalition” of 20-25 seats would be better than 4 Libs, 4 NDP and an Alberta Party MLA.

    PS. The new website looks really good! EXCEPT for the text which is a little light-coloured and hard to read at times.

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