First of all, Sarah Hoffman knows who she is and she has no apologies.
“Women like me aren’t supposed to be in politics, right? I’m fat. I’m sassy. And I have a really hard time pretending to be somebody that I’m not.”
So she’s not going to.
Which means there’s no point for her critics on social media to continue whispering about her appearance, Ms. Hoffman said in an exclusive interview before the launch this morning of her campaign to replace Rachel Notley as leader of the Alberta NDP. “There’s nothing to whisper about,” she says bluntly. “This is just who I am.”
Male politicians on the right and in the United States can get away with being who they are, the Edmonton-Glenora MLA observed, pointing to the un-svelte Donald Trump. “So, we can be who we are here too, and we can own it on the left.”
“I’m leaning into it!”
So get used to it, and don’t imagine having an army of Internet bots tweeting mean things about her will make any difference!
In case you were wondering, as some obviously have been, something else the health minister in Ms. Notley’s cabinet from 2015 to 2019 is not going to pretend to be is a Liberal.
Under her leadership, she vowed, the Alberta NDP would continue to be true to its New Democratic roots.
Whether or not the Alberta NDP should legally disaffiliate itself from the 62-year-old federal party or adopt a new name had already become a hot topic among the commentariat and some factions of the party, even before retiring Ontario MP Charlie Angus launched his private member’s bill about banning advertisements by Big Oil, getting the right-wing Twittersphere to spin like a top.
Well, for the record, Ms. Hoffman was a New Democrat before it was popular in Alberta and she will remain one. “I’m unapologetic about my values,” she told me. “And I think that they’re the ones that we need to help solve these really difficult times.”
“I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been a new Democrat for a long time,” she continued. “And I’m proud of the fact that the federal party is why we have medicare, the Canada Health Act, pensions, the CPP.” These programs spring from NDP values that the overwhelming majority of Canadians support, she said, in particular the Canada Pension Plan and public health insurance.
So that should inform us all that, as leader of the Opposition or premier, Ms. Hoffman wouldn’t lose enthusiasm for the NDP’s determination to preserve the CPP for Albertans, or her commitment to address the cost-of-living crisis with aggressive action to control housing costs, the biggest inflationary pressure people now face.
But what about that carbon tax?
When Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi launched her NDP leadership campaign on Thursday, her revelation she would consider dropping the carbon tax if other measures could be found to replace it generated intense interest in media.
Speaking with Ms. Hoffman, it sounds as if this idea has been percolating in more than one corner of the NDP, perhaps especially now that Ms. Notley is officially, as our American friends put it, a lame duck.
The consumer carbon tax is “dead in the water,” Ms. Hoffman said.
Some parts of the Notley Government’s Climate Leadership Plan worked, she explained. “We reduced methane in a substantial way. Danielle Smith is bragging about it all over the world. We got rid of coal-fired power for this province, I think that’s had a lasting positive environmental impact. The industrial polluter-pay carbon tax for large industrial emitters has worked. …
“But the consumer based carbon tax has not,” she continued. “It became a federal tax. And then Justin Trudeau completely broke confidence in it when he tried to pick winners and losers and exempt parts of Eastern Canada, where they had seats, from paying the tax. That is a broken model, it has no public confidence.”
So the days are numbered for the consumer carbon tax, Ms. Hoffman believes. “Justin Trudeau has completely bungled this whole project. And I think he’s left at Canadians with no confidence. I think it’s dead in the water.”
That said, she added, “the public does need us to address climate change. We’re in February, and we’ve got extreme drought. Catastrophic drought is on the horizon. Wildfires have only been getting worse year after year.”
Door-knocking in Calgary recently, she was struck by how many people expressed concern about air quality so bad their kids couldn’t play outdoor sports. “When the air is unsafe to breathe, you need to take urgent action.”
And urgent action against climate change, she said, must include strengthening the polluter pay principle, and ensuring that energy companies, making record profits, pay their fair share of measures to reduce carbon outputs and clean up pollution.
Ms. Hoffman was probably Alberta’s most successful health minister in the past half century, possibly longer. Given her record in that office, she naturally had many thoughts about what can be done to improve the disastrous deterioration in health care that has occurred under the UCP.
Ms. Hoffman said she was particularly proud of her successes “stopping harassment outside of abortion clinics; making sure that women were able to access the abortion pill, that it was fully funded, we were the first jurisdiction in Canada to do that; making sure that we expanded services for midwifery. …
“And (in) every major centre in this province,” she continued, “you could get a family doctor – that certainly isn’t the case today!
“Oh! Plus building the Calgary Cancer Centre, the Misericordia expansion, small projects too, like the (neonatal intensive care unit) in the St. Albert hospital. Those types of things have a lasting impact.”
“We need a government that governs based on evidence, partnership, and relationship,” she summarized. “It wasn’t always easy … but we had some great outcomes when we were in government. So I think Day 1 of a Sarah Hoffman premiership, we sit down with all the folks who’ve had their trust broken with the Conservatives and we start rebuilding it.”
Contrast that with the UCP, she said. “This current government doesn’t want solutions. They want to undermine public health care. They want to create new org charts and blow things up, so that people lose confidence in public health care.”
“So being unrelenting on who we are as New Democrats, and that New Democrats brought us public health care, and New Democrats believe in it, we will make sure that we fix it and that it is stronger for the next generation.”
“I am adamantly opposed to privatization,” she added. “I believe in publicly funded and publicly delivered health care. I think that that’s where we get the best bang for our buck, when we take profit out of essential services, like health care.”
And having grown up in rural Alberta – in the tiny hamlet of Kinuso, between Slave Lake and High Prairie and surrounded by the Swan River First Nation, where her parents were teachers – Ms. Hoffman said she is determined to preserve and enhance Alberta’s rural hospitals.