PHOTOS: Alberta NDP premier-elect Rachel Notley at the centre of media attention. Below: NDP premiers Dave Barrett of British Columbia and Bob Rae of Ontario, back in the day; columnist and NDP activist Gerald Caplan.
And now, the hard part …
If you thought overcoming the supposed Progressive Conservative juggernaut piloted by hastily departing premier Jim Prentice was difficult, wait till you see the next big task that must be faced by premier-elect Rachel Notley.
And I’m not talking about the difficulties of training and managing a caucus with a lot of inexperienced members, which will present some challenges of its own – although not nearly as many as official commentariat would like you to imagine.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but for all the notorious inexperience in the federal NDP’s Quebec caucus, it didn’t take very long at all for them to settle down and get to work, operating reasonably smoothly.
It will be the same here. Being inexperienced is not the same as being a lightweight, and most of the new members of the Alberta NDP Government caucus are bright and committed people who will do just fine in the Legislature.
Nor am I talking about creating a cabinet that won’t mess up, although that’s an inherently more difficult challenge than getting a group of bright people to do an essentially simple task while sticking to well-understood rules. That one, as Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid noted Wednesday, is merely monumental.
No, the biggest challenge will come when the Organized Right – including its corporate financiers, think-tank auxiliary and legislative and media arms – shakes off the shock of having been defeated at what it thought was a deadbolt cinch and declares open, unremitting war on the NDP government of Alberta.
A reader took me to task yesterday for daring to suggest that such a thing could be possible. “But of course any unflattering economic results may be attributed to s fifth column of ‘sabotaging’ business interests,” my interlocutor commented sarcastically.
Yet this is all too real a threat. As Gerald Caplan wrote in the Globe and Mail back in October 2010, this is exactly what happened when Bob Rae and his New Democrats took over the government of Ontario in 1990.
“Within months,” Dr. Caplan wrote, “Mr. Rae’s government faced an unrelenting, brutal four-year onslaught that was unprecedented in Canadian history.”
This long piece by the distinguished journalist, academic and lifelong CCF-NDP political activist is instructive, and well worth poring over with care. I hope Dr. Caplan will forgive me if I quote him at length:
“It is no exaggeration to say hysterical fear-mongering and sabotage was the order of the day. Launched within the very first year of the new government, the attackers included every manner of business big and small, both Canadian and American-owned, almost all private media, the police (especially in Toronto), landlords and lobbying/government relations firms. Their goal was clear, and they had the money and power to achieve it.
“They were determined to undermine the government every step of the way, to frustrate the implementation of its plans and to assure its ultimate defeat. In all three goals they were successful. The considerable achievements of the government – often forgotten or dismissed – were wrought in the face of a deep recession and ferocious obstruction.”
Instructively, Dr. Caplan reports: “After the new finance minister’s very first meeting with the banking community, a bank vice-president told him, in the presence of an aide: ‘Nice speech, Mr. Minister, but we’re going to kill you.’”
Despite the fact the Soviet Union was imploding at the time, Dr. Caplan recalled, some right-wing columnists of the day “actually resorted to old-fashioned red-baiting, smearing the government as ‘red’ or ‘communist.’”
That these attacks hurt the economy of Ontario, as well as the NDP, mattered not to the militant neoliberal right. The goal was the destruction of Ontario’s modern experiment with social democracy, driven by the Organized Right’s vicious and irrational hatred of the Rae Government.
This phenomenon lingers to this day, as we saw during the just-ended Alberta election campaign, with its constant references to Mr. Rae, as if he had personally created the recession of the early 1990s. There was Wildrose Leader Brian Jean at the end of the campaign, barking on the CBC’s morning drive show about “Rae Days,” without an apparent clue in a carload what those words meant.
Rae Days were, let it be said, the unpaid days off work public employees got when Mr. Rae abandoned his own constituency and adopted the neoliberal policies of the never-to-be-satisfied right wingers, people with views not unlike those of Mr. Jean.
Although I would be hard pressed to produce documentary links in the time available, I can recall exactly the same response by the same actors to the government of Dave Barrett after his unexpected majority NDP government was formed in British Columbia in the fall of 1972.
As an aside, it is worth noting that the defeat of Mr. Barrett’s government at the end of only one term was caused at least in part by his foolish decision to call an early election after only three years in power. I’m just saying.
Regardless, that the same kind of attacks on the Notley Government are a real possibility goes without saying – indeed, they have already begun.
Yesterday, before Ms. Notley has even been sworn in, she’s being blamed in the mainstream media for a selloff of energy stocks by stock traders, a highly unlikely claim, followed by the inevitable threats that “capital is extremely mobile and can easily move out of Alberta at the first sign of uncertainty” if we don’t knuckle under.
Oh well, the Zombie Confidence Fairy is bound to put in lots of additional appearances in Alberta in the weeks and months to come.
The Calgary Herald’s Deborah Yedlin was on the CBC today wringing her hands about the “above-ground risk” to energy companies caused by the “political uncertainty” of having an NDP government in Alberta. I’m afraid I laughed out loud at that one as I motored along. After all, what’s uncertain about a majority government? Excuse me, there’s likely to be nothing but stability for four years or so, whether the Organized Right likes it or not.
Well, at least the days of open red-baiting are over … Oh, wait. Here’s a headline from yesterday’s National Post: “Albertans wanted a broom, not a hammer and sickle.”
Well, the author of that was former Mike Duffy speechwriter Ezra Levant, the intemperate and sharp-eyed loony-right commentator who this week identified an almost invisible Che Guevara watch in an old picture of Ms. Notley’s wrist and once spotted a Cuban flag in my lapel.
Where’s the evidence that anything at all has changed, in spite of Mr. Braid’s point on election day that while Ms. Notley won’t do Alberta any harm, this kind of reaction to her might?
“The real danger to Alberta,” he wrote, and perhaps to the rest of Canada as well, “is not MLAs in the Notley Crue. It’s loose talk from the conservative side about the NDP inevitably bringing economic doom. Such prophecies can be self-fulfilling.”
Mr. Braid’s implicit criticism such fear mongering by his colleagues is based on the assumption the deep-pocketed, determined promoters of these strategies don’t actually intend to do harm.
Let’s hope he’s right.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.