[NOTE: Some time ago, I published a longer version of this post on this blog. I think this point is worth making again, both here and to a larger audience on Rabble.ca. That said, if I may say so myself, this version is better! DJC]
Question: How can the Alberta New Democratic Party get its fair share of the province’s increasingly fragmented political pie? Answer: By recasting itself as the City Party of Alberta.
This is not to say that the NDP should actually start calling itself the CPA. But it should pay attention to urban issues like no other party. And no other party is likely to, given the lay of the political land in this particular province.
You’d think this would be pretty easy: As things stand, there’s zero possibility of the NDP making gains in the rural parts of the province. That’s just the way it is. Smoke all the banana peels you like, but that ain’t gonna change. The NDP speaks mainly to urban concerns anyway.
What’s more, there’s a huge urban gap in the Alberta political structure. Notwithstanding a plethora of brave new startup parties, there is no political party prepared to really speak out for Alberta’s beleaguered urban taxpayers.
Indeed, one of the province’s recent big political stories was Premier Ed Stelmach’s spirited defence of the province’s rural-biased – and thus historically Conservative-biased – electoral map. Caught between the need to re-gerrymander Alberta’s electoral districts and the far-right Wildrose Alliance’s call to save money by restricting the number of ridings, Stelmach had to spell out the obvious for his wavering rural supporters.
“If we had not increased the number of seats we would have lost three (rural ridings),” an exasperated Premier Stelmach told the St. Patrick’s Day convention of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.
So, on the face of it, recasting the New Democrats as the party of Alberta’s urban taxpayers would seem an obvious fit – good for the NDP, consistent with the key points of its philosophy, and healthy for the province’s cities 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 will crawl out of the rural woodpile to finally swing things the way that God and Tommy Douglas intended.
Well, folks, that is just not on. Most of the CCF’s supporters have gone to their heavenly reward, God bless them. 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.
Alberta today is dominated by low-population rural ridings whose residents are going to vote for their beloved tax-and-spend Conservatives, in one guise or another, no matter what, as long as sufficient loot from city taxpayers and oil upgraders keeps flowing their way.
More than anything else, Alberta needs a political party that will speak for the interests of the province’s hard-pressed city dwellers. It won’t be the Liberals, because they subscribe to the unlikely view that they’re just another Conservative Party in waiting, and to succeed they too must capture the hearts of rural voters. Likewise, the far-right Wildrose Alliance, with its power base in Calgary, will now emphasize its appeal to Conservative voters in Alberta’s hinterlands.
Of Alberta’s established political parties, only the NDP could honestly represent the interests of urban voters.
If the NDP will not – or cannot – bring itself to represent Alberta’s city voters, it will sentence itself to a diminishing future as a boutique social democracy club. If this happens, rest assured that sooner or later someone else will go after the urban vote and the balance of power it represents.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.