So how can the New Democratic Party get its fair share of Alberta’s increasingly fragmented political pie?
Simple: It needs to recast itself as the Urban Party of Alberta.
By saying this, I am not suggesting that the NDP actually start calling itself the UPA. But I am suggesting that the NDP should pay attention to urban issues like no other party.
And no other party’s likely to, given the lay of the political land in this particular province.
You’d think this would be pretty easy to do: As things stand, there’s zero possibility of the NDP making gains in the rural parts of this province. That’s just the way it is, and it ain’t gonna change. The NDP speaks mainly to urban concerns anyway.
There’s a huge urban gap in the Alberta political structure, That is, notwithstanding the plethora of brave new startup parties, at this moment there seems to be no political party that is prepared to really speak out for Alberta’s roundly abused urban taxpayers.
So, on the face of it, recasting the New Democrats as the party of Alberta’s beleaguered urban taxpayers would seem like an obvious fit – good for the NDP, consistent with the key points of its philosophy, and good for the province’s city dwellers too.
But to do this, the Alberta NDP’s leadership would have to fundamentally rethink a strategy based on a much-loved fantasy – that somehow, some day, when the planets are all magically in alignment, enough old CCF voters would crawl out of the woodpile to finally swing things the way that God and Tommy Douglas intended.
Well, folks, it’s just not going to happen that way. Most of the CCF’s supporters have gone to their heavenly reward, God bless them, and most of us surviving Dipper-symps were there for the funeral. That’s no surprise, of course, since in so many cases they were our parents. Those of us still here on earth are just going to have to slug it out in the Alberta political landscape of the 21st Century. And that’s a place that doesn’t much resemble the stubbly ground of Saskatchewan in 1944.
Above all, it’s a place dominated by low-population rural ridings whose mostly older residents are going to vote for their beloved tax-and-spend Conservatives, no matter what, as long as the urban loot keeps flowing their way. … Simmer down, everybody! Somebody had to say it!
So what would an NDP urban agenda look like?
It would need to speak forthrightly about things that really matter to urban voters. The usual anodyne platitudes, like those trotted out in the Renew Party’s non-platform platform, would not do, if only because they sound like the nonsense spouted by everyone else.
This would require a little courage to do. However, if you ask me, Albertans just might be ready for a little honest-to-goodness social democracy. And, anyway, the NDP’s current strategy can hardly be described as a screaming success.
Here are five urban issues that could work for the NDP:
Public Transit. An NDP urban agenda would have to speak to public transit. Everyone knows how the tax dollars flow to rural areas for irrigation projects, first-class rural highways, Cadillac health care facilities and a host of other costly benefits. Meanwhile, we need decent, efficient, safe, fast public transit in our cities. Huge economic and environmental benefits would accrue. But while public transit saves a bundle down the line, it costs a fortune up front. The NDP should really fight for public transit, not just pay it unenthusiastic lip service like all those identical right-wing parties.
Social Services. When Tories cut social services and close needed mental hospitals, who pays? Urban taxpayers, that’s who! We pay more for policing, more for health care, more for basic services required simply to keep our fellow humans from freezing to death. We pay in crime, in run-down neighbourhoods, in foregone business opportunities and in lost acute-care medical beds. Rural-based, rural-focused parties like the Conservatives don’t really give a hoot. By speaking up for urban social services and an end to downloading the costs of base services for society’s most desperate onto our cities, the NDP would be speaking up for urban taxpayers, safer cities and a better life. They’d also be speaking up for the socially disadvantaged, of course, which is also as it should be.
Child Care. Yes, child care. It’s bloody well time for child care! It’s not that we can’t afford it. We can’t afford not to have it. This is an urban issue if ever there was one. This is a prosperity issue – as a method of stimulating the economy, child care dollars are worth about five times as much as infrastructure spending. (And infrastructure spending, in turn, is better than boondoggles like carbon capture.) It’s not only an employment issue, it’s also a women’s issue – a real women’s issue, more significant, if you’ll forgive an elderly male for saying so, than the NDP’s current focus on dragooned female candidates. It’s not only a women’s issue, it’s a young people’s issue. The Conservatives in Ottawa will never do anything about this. So why not the Alberta NDP? All the other parties will say we can’t afford it – you know, all the other parties that stand for low petroleum royalties, multi-billion-dollar boondoggles and generous donations to the upkeep of rural electoral districts.
Public Health Care. Decent hospitals and sufficient doctors for our needs are an urban issue. Mental health facilities that work, where they’re needed – like Alberta Hospital Edmonton. Public health centres and emergency treatment facilities belong in every part of our urban communities. Proper publicly run seniors’ facilities also belong within our urban communities. And how about health regions based in our cities? The Capital Health Region was doing innovative, effective things to bring quality public health care to our metropolitan area. The Stelmach Tories purposely wrecked it to achieve a narrow political goal and appeal to its rural base. Public health care, and a health region run by people from our own world-class city, and others like it in other Alberta cities, is a worthy political goal for the NDP.
Public Education. It goes without saying that spending money on public education benefits the province in the long term, and pays immediate dividends in terms of quality of life in our communities. It also eases the impact of unemployment, especially for young people, and helps urban working families. What a concept – create vast advantages for society over the long term by helping young people now! Caps on tuition, adequate funding for institutions, and schools where we need them – which is not necessarily in Manyberries – is a terrific urban issue. And remember, if we can pay for carbon capture and million-dollar buyouts for health care execs who have fallen into political disfavour, we can afford decent schools.
The NDP should speak to each of these issues. The NDP should describe these for what they are – city issues. And the NDP should paint itself as what it is anyway, whether it likes it or not: the only political party in Alberta that looks out for, or cares about, the issues that matter to urban residents.
And you know what? You wouldn’t even have to badmouth the rural areas. But seeing as they’re not going to vote NDP anyway, no matter what, you don’t really need to put a hell of a lot of effort into developing a rural platform for them.
Alberta’s city taxpayers get screwed. Street crime, potholes, declining snow clearing service and our fourth-rate public transit system are all glaring examples. No Alberta party likely to form a government any time soon will sacrifice rural votes to serve the people who really provide the energy and enterprise and creativity that make this province worth living in.
The NDP can speak for those of us who live in Alberta’s cities, and improve its electoral chances as part of the deal.