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With barely two years until the next provincial election in Alberta and the governing UCP cratering in the polls, the prospect of Rachel Notley’s NDP forming government again seems downright realistic. There’s just one problem: the federal NDP keeps getting in their way.
Witness the recent tweet from the party’s official account in which it pretended to have gotten its hands on the agenda for the bilateral meeting between the prime minister and Joe Biden. “NDP intercepts early draft of Biden-Trudeau meeting agenda,” it said. “You won’t BELIEVE what we found!”
What they “found” was enthusiastic support for Keystone XL (“Yes!!” they wrote in the agenda’s margins) indifference to a pharmacare plan (“wgaf”) and an apparent fascination with an ice cream summit (“OMG! Yes!!!”). Notwithstanding the failed attempt at humour, the tweet speaks to an obvious disconnect between what’s in the best interests of the federal NDP and its Alberta wing.
It makes all the sense in the world for Jagmeet Singh to keep chipping away at support for the federal Liberals in places like the Greater Toronto Area and Greater Vancouver. But in Alberta, where four out of five federal Liberal voters currently support the provincial NDP and where federal Liberals out-polled the federal NDP in the 2019 election, attacking the prime minister at every available opportunity isn’t going to help Notley.
But this is of a piece for Singh’s NDP. Take the news in January about Keystone XL, which gave the Alberta NDP a golden opportunity to remind voters about the risky $1.5-billion bet that Premier Jason Kenney had made on the now twice-dead pipeline with their province’s taxpayer dollars. And yet, on the same day that Kenney was eating one the most embarrassing losses of his political career, Singh was busy trying to serve the leftovers to Justin Trudeau instead.
“President-elect Biden has been clear on his KXL position from the start,” Singh tweeted. “Justin Trudeau knew this, did nothing and let Albertans down.”
It’s hardly the first such round the Alberta NDP has had to defend itself against. In 2016, the party gathered in Edmonton for its national convention — and proceeded to embarrass and humiliate the only provincial government it controlled at the time. Party members from across the country spent much of their time debating Naomi Klein’s “Leap Manifesto,” which took direct aim at Alberta’s oil and gas industry and the thousands of jobs it supported at the time. Not surprisingly, that went down like a bag of hammers in Calgary, where the Alberta NDP would go on to lose most of its seats in the 2019 election.
Since that election, and despite that outcome, the federal brothers and sisters of Alberta’s New Democrats have continued to undermine their standing in the province when it comes to projects like the Trans Mountain expansion and the jobs associated with oil and gas activity. With Biden now in office for the next four years and another federal election in the offing, the stridency coming from federal New Democrats around Alberta’s largest industry isn’t likely to die down any time soon.
Notley could cut formal ties with the federal party, but she need only look at the twisted remains of the Alberta Liberals — who barely got more votes provincewide in 2019 than Notley did in her own riding — to see that this isn’t going to be enough. And while a new party label would be an intriguing idea (the Alberta Progressive Alliance, anyone?), the odds of a lifelong New Democrat like Notley breaking faith with the party she grew up in are about as good as those of Kenney leading the next Pride parade in Toronto.
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley's own worst enemy just might be her federal counterpart, Jagmeet Singh, writes @maxfawcett. #cdnpoli #ableg #NDP
So what can Notley do to hedge against her own political family’s willingness to forsake its Alberta wing? She can put as much blue paint in the Alberta NDP’s partisan bucket over the next two years as she can, and splash it around Calgary wherever possible. That means recruiting more business-friendly candidates to stand for office, and it means laying out a more coherent vision for the city’s economic future — one that includes a more meaningful role for the energy sector than federal New Democrats would like.
It also means drawing on the recent experience of its counterpart in B.C., which was frequently accused of being more interested in appealing to moderates on its right than activists on its left over its first term in government — and then won the biggest second-term majority of any provincial NDP government in Canadian history.
In the end, this may not matter if Kenney and the UCP keep shooting themselves in foot. But Alberta’s New Democrats shouldn’t get too cocky here. After all, two years is a long time in politics, and when the election finally rolls around Alberta could be in the midst of a new economic boom, one fed by a broader post-COVID recovery, rising oil prices and the completion of important infrastructure like TMX and Line 3.
Yes, the coalition that Kenney has built could splinter apart under the weight of his party’s recent hypocrisy, but it could just as easily come back together in the face of a potential NDP victory. That’s why the Alberta NDP needs to do everything it can to press its current advantage and remove any barriers that might stand in its way in 2023 — even if they happen to be painted in their shade of orange.