CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – It’s ironic how, despite complaints from the left about the Alberta NDP’s undeniable shift to the right, it was the party’s sole left-wing policy concession that appears to have sunk its chance to win the election.
This could have been meant as a gesture to placate the party’s traditional left or just been a moment of careless inattention. Whatever it was, it had a fateful impact.
Don’t take my word for it – there are plenty of people who think I’m wrong to have argued the unforced error that contributed the most to the NDP snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the May 29 election was its foolish decision to talk about a 3-per-cent tax increase for the province’s largest corporations.
Consider instead what the denizens of the United Conservative Party election War Room have to say.
A report in the Globe and Mail published Friday describes how UCP staffers combing through the NDP platform-costing estimates released by the NDP on May 18 – just as the UCP campaign was at its lowest ebb – reacted when they saw the NDP’s corporate tax plan.
“I was like: ‘Oh my goodness, it is Christmas,’” the Globe’s reporters quoted the UCP campaign’s issues management director saying.
“This is something that we need,” Erika Barootes remembered thinking, “to turn the page.”
“They gave us a gift,” UCP Campaign Manager Steve Outhouse said in the same story. “We were able to very quickly incorporate that into our advertising.”
As former Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason said of the Globe’s story: “It’s interesting that, despite the assertions by some that the @AlbertaNDP’s loss should be blamed on its attempt to attract former PC voters, UCP insiders credit the corporate tax hike.”
Now, the UCP is not always truthful in its accounts and analysis, but I see no reason for them to lie about this particular point – indeed, I’m sure they’d be delighted if the NDP would stick with policies that scare the bejesus out of many Calgary voters.
Say what you will about the need for the NDP – federally and in Alberta – to do the work to build support for more genuinely progressive economic policies, May 18 was the moment the NDP campaign faltered and fear in Calgary that modest tax increase on the most profitable corporations was the reason it faltered.
It doesn’t matter that the fear is unjustified by economic reality, it has been nurtured literally for generations by Conservative politicians and their enablers and supporters and is believed with reverence by a majority of voters in Calgary and everywhere else in Canada.
Anyway, whether the NDP a genuine social democratic party or just another centre-right party that is progressive enough to advocate neoliberalism with a human face doesn’t really matter. (Regular readers of this blog will know where I stand on this question.)
The immediate reality is that the NDP had a rare chance on May 29 to beat the Conservatives, thanks to that party’s decision to choose as a leader a person who is both a dangerous ideological extremist and a serial liar who keeps getting tangled in her own web of tall tales. But in a moment of strategic insanity the NDP tossed that chance away.
Journalist and commentator Nora Loreto wrote in her Substack the night after the election that, “the truth is that no amount of work during an election period can unseat a party that has rock-solid support in a majority of ridings. It’s impossible. And lying about it being possible burns volunteers, gives people false hope and makes it look like a party is deeply unserious.”
The real problem, Ms. Loreto concluded, is that “the NDP is not a serious party.”
The NDP, in Alberta and elsewhere, she argues, has failed to organize its base. “It can’t organize a base because, really, the party hasn’t stood for anything concrete in many decades and it’s very difficult to organize a base when you act for nothing,” she argued.
This is only slightly unfair. Unlike the federal party, the Alberta NDP at least has made a stab at organizing its base, a process that began before Rachel Notley was elected to lead the party. But it has really only done so in Edmonton. In the rest of Alberta it will take a lot of work – maybe years of it – that can only happen if the NDP is truly committed to doing the work.
As Ms. Loreto put it, “we have oriented everything in Canada towards the markets and no political party will change that with a single mandate (or even multiple mandates).”
In the meantime, though, we Albertans are going to have to live with the nightmare of a government run by Danielle Smith. This is not your grandfather’s Tory party, and the Smith-led UCP will do things intended to hurt Canada and that will damage many Albertans. It will be cruel and mindless.
Best buckle up!
NOTE: I continue to be on the road, which has an inevitable impact on both the frequency of the posts I am able to publish and the time it takes me to publish comments. If you are a regular commenter, please bear with me. DJC