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There was a time not that long ago that progressives in Alberta wouldn’t dare criticize NDP Leader Rachel Notley, much less suggest her brand was an impediment to their political success. But after two consecutive election defeats, the last of which was pried from the jaws of potential victory, people are starting to ask some hard questions about the future of her party.

Brian Malkinson, a former Alberta New Democratic Party MLA and leader of a new group called Alberta’s Progressive Future, thinks it’s time for a conversation about changing the NDP’s name. His group commissioned a recent poll showing 12 per cent of respondents are open to voting for the Alberta NDP but don’t at this time, while another 12 per cent aren’t likely to support them but would vote for another centre or centre-left party. Given the recent election could have produced an NDP win with just a few thousand extra votes in Calgary shifting its way, these are consequential numbers.

There’s no question the NDP brand is a drag on the party’s prospects in more conservative places like Calgary or that the federal party’s choices hurt the Alberta wing’s political interests far more often than they help. The national convention held in Edmonton in 2016, when Thomas Mulcair was turfed as leader and the so-called “Leap Manifesto” became a huge flashpoint for debate and controversy, is a case in point on that front.

But said federal party also has a constitution that stipulates “each province of Canada shall have a fully autonomous provincial party, provided its constitution and principles are not in conflict with those of the federal party.” Many NDP members would instinctively resist any attempt to move away from their brand, a group that could easily include Notley (especially in light of her own family's storied connection with the name) and other current party stalwarts. And because the decision about who does and doesn’t qualify as a provincial wing of the party falls to the NDP’s federal council, it’s not hard to see a rebrand leading almost immediately to the re-creation of another “Alberta NDP” — and a huge split in the progressive vote.

Malkinson’s group isn’t proposing a formal severing of ties with the federal party because “there is value in sharing resources such as IT staff and tech infrastructure, plus all involved do have similar political and social views.” But this is like separatists in Alberta or Quebec pretending they get all the benefits from leaving Confederation without any of the attendant costs. In reality, it just doesn’t work that way.

And then, of course, there are the disastrous results of the former BC Liberal Party’s own rebranding exercise, one that sought to disassociate it from its own unpopular federal party. Instead, the new “BC United” party plunged in the polls, saw MLAs cross the floor to an upstart competitor and now finds itself on even footing with the resurgent BC Conservative Party. It's a useful reminder to anyone in Alberta that these sorts of exercises aren’t without risks.

That includes me. In the past I’ve argued a merger of Alberta’s various progressive parties was a good idea and assembling their voters under a new political brand would be a useful exercise. But that’s effectively what happened in the last election, when whatever was left of the Alberta Liberal Party vote all but disappeared and the Alberta Party faded even further into irrelevance. With the latter’s leader having just resigned, it seems clear the fight to unite the non-right has already been won. Engaging in a long conversation about a new political brand would effectively be a rearguard battle that could ultimately divide progressive voters.

Instead, the Alberta NDP must focus all of its attention on finding the right new leader. Notley’s tenure has been a success in many important ways, but the last election showed she isn’t going to be the person to defeat a united conservative movement in Alberta. To do that, the party needs a new leader who’s as comfortable in front of business crowds in Calgary as labour rallies in Edmonton. It needs a leader who can champion the NDP’s accomplishments as a government without being personally associated with the mistakes it made over those four years. And it needs a leader who can grow its appeal and popularity rather than simply reinforcing its existing bases of support.

If Alberta’s Progressive Future wants to help the party win the next provincial election, it should drop the idea of a new name and focus on ensuring the race to select the next leader is as fair and open as possible. It should open the door to as many new voters as possible rather than closing ranks around existing membership. It should press the party for a ballot structure and campaign duration that maximizes deliberation and debate, giving members the best possible opportunity to fully consider their choices.

Is it time for the Alberta NDP to change its name? That's what one former MLA is asking, and it has people talking. But does that conversation miss the political forest for the trees — and avoid the real matter at hand?

Focusing on a new party name misses the forest for the trees here — and risks distracting NDP supporters from the real conversation they need to be having.

Keep reading

I whole heartedly agree. I got the impression that towards the end of the last election, Not.eh was just going through the motions.

"Not.eh?" Sounds conservative, so I never heard that particular witty slag; they're such consummate wordsmiths aren't they? "Axe the tax...."
But I did notice down the street from us before the provincial election here there was a sign with a photo of her face with a gun sight trained on it, something they also had at the Brooks golf course apparently, set up as a target for balls. If you've ever seen her in person btw, she IS a very cute and very short blonde woman, possibly one of the reasons, albeit subconscious, that commenters also feel free to describe her as "childishly petulant" and hyperbolic/hysterical?
My husband is a member of the party so we went to a meeting here in Lethbridge where police security was present. Knowing Shannon Phillips somewhat, she told us there have been many death threats, unprecedented in Canada before the effing proud boys in their big, black trucks were unleashed. And that's all just the tip of the iceberg I'm sure when it comes to what this group of women in charge has had to put up with all these years while hitting the deck running after an election meant to punish the tribal leaders accidentally and unexpectedly put them in charge; the earplugs in the legislature was another new and particularly glaringly misogynist stunt that had to have been disheartening. Shannon developed a permanent grimace on her face when she "smiled," but it's actually a bit better since they lost, lessening the abuse somewhat I'd think.
So I've expected Rachel to resign already and agree with Max that she should after losing two elections, especially the last one where people waded through unprecedented fire smoke to vote which she never even mentioned in the campaign; she's apparently not in agreement with this name change idea, probably rightly seeing it as a hiving off and a weakening of the party by someone who doesn't have the nerve to challenge her outright; it IS a very close knit core group in charge.
I hope it doesn't amount to anything more than the Alberta Party did; if it does we may truly be on the road to some bona fide fascism in this province. Melanie Thomas who just got tenure at U of C as a Political Science prof spoke here the other day and is genuinely worried.
I would like to see a new name with "progressive" front and centre but federally to go with the union of the left at that most important level.

And that radical "Leap Manifesto" that Alberta's NDP scoffed at as "tone-deaf?" Check the link; it's spot on so too bad we hadn't all jumped on board THEN. Shows how attitudes are finally shifting, although not enough and not soon enough. In the last provincial election I recognized that and was watching the NDP to see if they'd smartened up, but they did not.
Unfortunately, the sad truth is that a man would probably be taken more seriously despite being "progressive."

How far right can the Alberta NDP shift without alienating its traditional progressive base? As the Alberta NDP moves right, where does that leave progressive voters? Will progressive Albertans lose their party?

As the gap increases between the Alberta NDP and the federal party, and policy differences become irreconcilable, does it not make sense for the Alberta NDP to rebrand itself, if not sever ties?

What do long-time federal NDP supporters in Alberta make of Notley's public repudiation of federal NDP leadership and climate/energy policy? How far down the neoliberal, corporatist, climate denialist path will they follow Rachel Notley and her vision?

How many AB NDP MLAs, party stalwarts, and supporters were pro-pipeline before Notley came along and re-wrote the NDP playbook on energy and the environment? Would they have approved Notley's pro-pipeline agenda, hyperbolic rhetoric, extortionist tactics, and childish petulance if they were still in opposition?

Under Alberta's pipeline queen, Rachel Notley, the NDP has been chasing the UCP to the right. Particularly on energy and climate. The goal, apparently, is to capture the centre-right space abandoned by the increasingly extreme UCP. Apparently, the NDP hopes to replace the old Progressive Conservative party that reigned for more than four decades.
Make no mistake. Notley's party is not your father's NDP.
Not Jagmeet Singh's NDP, either.

Notley repeatedly attacked her federal colleagues over pipelines. Notley's NDP also attacked environmentalists and pipeline opponents.
You can support Notley's energy/climate policies or the federal NDP's. You cannot do both. They are mutually inconsistent. Irreconcilable.

Premier Notley heaped scorn on federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh over the Trans Mtn Expansion pipeline.
"To forget that and to throw [working people] under the bus as collateral damage in pursuit of some other high level policy objective is a recipe for failure and it's also very elitist."
"To do that and forget the needs of working people, or to throw working people under the bus, means that both economic growth and environmental protection are bound to fail."

Elitist? In subservience to Big Oil CEOs, Notley travelled the country, preaching salvation by pipeline to choirs of business elites. In May, Notley hosted a hundred businesspeople who flew into the AB Legislature from BC.

Deputy premier Sarah Hoffman: "I recall many times Jagmeet Singh has not been a friend to Albertans, to working people or to our nation when it comes to energy policy."
Notley forbid her NDP sheep from posing for pictures with federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

In the Oct 2019 federal election, Notley initially refused to publicly support the federal NDP candidate Heather McPherson in Edmonton Strathcona. Notley had nothing to gain. The AB NDP had already gone down to defeat in April.
Sabotaging federal NDP fortunes in Edmonton Strathcona would do nothing to help the AB NDP. No right-wingers would ever give Notley any credit for her stance on pipelines.
Notley shifted away from her long-time progressive supporters towards her legions of regressive neoliberal non-supporters, knowing NDP supporters had nowhere else to go.
"What was Rachel Notley suggesting when she said she's not committed to voting for Jagmeet Singh's New Democrats?" (Alberta Politics, 2019)
Brilliant tactics or gross misjudgment?

Notley tried to outconservative the conservatives on pipelines. A pipeline project became the rallying flag for Albertans, whose sense of grievance against Ottawa burns eternal. Fuelling the right-wing rage machine.

Pandering to fossil fuel dinosaurs just fed the right-wing frenzy. Stoking Albertans' perennial resentment over pipelines and everything else under the sun only helped the UCP. Most pipeline boosters would not vote NDP if Notley built a billion pipelines.

With no hopes for re-election against a united Conservative party, the NDP had nothing to gain by shifting right. Stoking Albertans' perennial resentment over pipelines and everything else under the sun only helped the UCP. Albertans who support neoliberal energy policies will just vote for the real thing.

Notley's pipeline hysterics only inflamed Albertans against the NDP and alienated her own supporters. Notley's shift to the right was a disaster for the NDP and the progressive cause in Alberta. A major blunder.

Premier Notley on the UofA's decision to award David Suzuki an honorary degree: "Speaking personally as an alumni (sic), I'm not a big fan of this decision. It struck me as being a bit tone deaf. If I'd been on the senate, I wouldn't have personally voted for it."

Notley responded likewise to Jane Fonda's visit in 2017: "Super tone-deaf."
"Graham Thomson: Jane Fonda's outdated rhetoric fails to make dent in pipeline expansion"

Cheryl Oates, Communications Director for the Premier: "We have been clear that when it comes to Alberta's oilsands, Tzeporah Berman is dead wrong."

Notley's barely disguised insults towards environmentalists like Berman and Greenpeace's Mike Hudema didn't go unnoticed.
"How a Rachel Notley volunteer wound up on a bridge blockading an oil tanker" (National Observer)

Fawcett: "But said federal party also has a constitution that stipulates 'each province of Canada shall have a fully autonomous provincial party, provided its constitution and principles are not in conflict with those of the federal party.'"
Clearly, the vision and principles of the AB NDP and federal party ARE in conflict.
It's Notley who has fallen off the climate map, not Jagmeet Singh. It was the Alberta NDP who turned their backs on the federal party, not the other way around.

Fawcett: "Instead, the Alberta NDP must focus all of its attention on finding the right new leader."
The "right new leader" or the "new right leader"?

Fawcett: "To do that, the party needs a new leader who’s as comfortable in front of business crowds in Calgary as labour rallies in Edmonton."
One party or two?

Keith McLaughlin, Chief of Staff to several ministers in the Notley govt, now with New West Public Affairs: "I advocated back in 2016 for the provincial (NDP) party to de-affiliate from the federal party. I have long felt that way, just because there is disalignment."
(CBC West of Centre podcast: Watching from the other side, 22-Apr-22)

According to McLaughlin, a formal separation is necessary if the NDP is to attract former progressive conservative voters, who feel comfortable with neither the UCP nor the federal NDP.

I was totally shocked to happen across a 3-minute ad on YouTube the other day by none other than Rachel Notley, extolling the virtues of renewable energy. For three minutes straight she nailed all the salient points. How strong the industry is in Alberta. How powerful wind and solar are in U.S. Republican states, like Texas. How it's one of the best climate fighting mechanisms. How many jobs it created and how much revenue it made or Alberta, until Danielle Smith pressed Pause under false pretenses.

Only at the tail end did Notley make any statements about the oil sands, seemingly taking credit for "efficiency."

I was stunned, but I quickly remembered Notley's negative hyperbole, threats and sarcasm targeting BC over its resistance to TMX. She petulantly banned BC wines -- the intended effect reversed as sales skyrocketed -- until the courts shut her down. She applauded when municipal staff were hauled before the kangaroo court known then as the National Energy Board and given the highly comptemptuous third degree by TMX lawyers over imposing the same standard permit application process that everyone else must make. A real court of law would have fined the TMX lawyers and straightened a very slanted, bent case.

In this context, Rachel Notley's ad seemed absolutely pathetic and jaw-droppingly hypocritical, trying to take advantage of the assault on a popular industry she barely acknowledged in her tenure as the leader of the No. 2 Party of Oil in Alberta.

Conservatives who stick to their beliefs garner more respect by voters than progressives who flip flop like a lake trout on the bottom of a canoe.

Changing the leader may work, but only if the new leader changes out all the MLAs and policy staff who supported Notley in her effort to contradict her few statements acknowledging climate change while promoting a major oil industry expansion. The Alberta NDP itself needs a thorough internal cleanse and new policies that stand firmly behind renewables. Opportunistic two-faced policy flipping smells very fishy.

Most people don't realize that Notley's government did a lot of work on renewable energy — just quietly, in the background. Otherwise, how could Smith have had so many projects to cancel?

Fawcett: "Brian Malkinson, a former Alberta New Democratic Party MLA and leader of a new group called Alberta’s Progressive Future, thinks it’s time for a conversation about changing the NDP’s name."

Malkinson embodies the schism between old and new NDP:
"Calgary-Currie NDP MLA Brian Malkinson gave an interview to News Talk 77 in which he pointed out that Alberta recently had two pipelines approved by the federal government 'because we took action on climate change because we believe it's real.'" (Alberta Politics, 2017)

Someday people are going to look back at statements like this and wonder what our generation was smoking.
The contradiction, idiocy, effrontery — whatever you call it — of expanding fossil fuel production, seeking new markets for AB oil, adding to the global oil glut, and boosting total emissions in the face of climate change is appalling even now.

For the AB NDP to boast that action on climate change enabled new pipelines takes us into the realm of the surreal.
If the AB NDP really believed climate change was real, they would support not another inch of pipeline or drop of oilsands expansion.
The AB NDP's climate plan is a plan to fail.

The headlines have not changed:
"Environment Canada report says we are on pace to miss emissions target" (Toronto Star, 2017)
Affirming "belief" in climate change science while ignoring its implications is the most insidious form of climate change denial.

How about the "Not Danielle Smith" Party?
NDSP.

Nobody is comfortable going in front of business crowds to tell them that their business is over. You're just never getting some votes in Alberta, and those would be the business crowds. The NDP has to communicate to the general populace that there are just as many jobs in transition as extraction; that's about it. It's not like the general populace gets anything BUT jobs from the old industries, they aren't investors.

While I agree the name change is a non starter, I'm not so sure about the strategy of changing the leader. Right now, what makes more sense for me, is changing the conversation inside and outside of the party.

Danielle Smith and the TBA are making it very clear in which direction they wish to take the province. But the rapidly increasing examples of extreme weather is also making it increasingly clear that the emergency we face is neither Justin Trudeau nor the carbon tax.

There remains an unwillingness in Alberta to confront the admittedly grim reality of what it means to be a Petrostate.....and in particular, a petrostate that continues to push the lie that the dirtiest oil on the planet(bitumen....tar) is going to be the last fossil fuel standing.....AND......guarantee Alberta's prosperity into the next century. A minority of Albertans know that this is right wing none sense..........and Danielle may be helping more of us to recognize where in fact the future does not lie.

Changing the name/changing the leader.........are both REBRANDING EXERCISES. Anyone who thinks rebranding is going to solve the very real problems we face in Alberta likely doesn't know what the real problems are.

I'd be in favour of a re-invigorated NDP using the next four years to face those real problems...and present them in clear messaging to the people of Alberta. Doing that is the real task in front of us..........thinking a new name...........or a new leader will make that hard work unnecessary is a temptation.

In general.......temptations are not solutions. There is no quick fix to where we are and what we're facing.. ..and no inspiring new leader to take us miraculously to some new promised land.......where bitumen is turned to gold.........and renewables are unnecessary.

What the NDP really needs...........is better policy, policy more aligned to the real world in which we live.

Finally, after all Pounders self indulgent rhetoric, a sensible comment: What the NDP needs is better policy, policy more aligned to the real world we live in" A world in which, Pounder not withstanding, a large number of Albertans will be dependent on the oil and gas industry exports for their daily bread, even if eventually, in 2050 maybe, demand for renewable energies will make CO2 producing energy jobs redundant. The federal NDP doesn't seem to get the politics of this - not the science, the politics. If you are the NDP, you can campaign at the top of your voice against subsidizing oil billionaires with tax dollars, but you can't campaign for a reduction in Joe Paycheque jobs in the oil patch and expect those folks to vote for you - DUH!

Misses the point entirely. The question is not whether Notley's policy choices were justified. Though we can certainly have that debate. Committing the province to decades of oilsands expansion and sabotaging Canada's climate targets in the midst of a climate emergency sets up Alberta and its workers for more severe oil price crashes and fails to prepare the province for the energy transition. At the same time, it did nothing to improve the NDP's political fortunes.

No, the issue here is whether the AB NDP's radical departure from traditional NDP policy positions, and Notley's attacks upon her federal colleagues and environmentalists, make the provincial party incompatible with its federal counterpart. Should the AB NDP formalize its depature from NDP norms by changing its name? And should the NDP seek a new vision and direction under a new leader?

Alan Ball wrote: "you can't campaign for a reduction in Joe Paycheque jobs in the oil patch and expect those folks to vote for you"
"Those folks" won't vote for the NDP anyway. As noted above, most pipeline boosters would not vote NDP if Notley built a billion pipelines. Stoking Albertans' perennial resentment over pipelines and everything else under the sun only helped the UCP.

"Self indulgent rhetoric"? That would be people who post insults instead of arguments. I have seen a lot worse from Notley loyalists. Try harder.