A last thought for 2012: 2013 is bound to be an important year for Alberta’s NDP

2013 could be a big year for Alberta’s NDP – if they play their cards right. Members of the Alberta NDP caucus and their opponents may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: NDP Leader Brian Mason.

Surely the strategic goal of Alberta’s New Democrats between now and the next provincial election must be to move the NDP from being the fourth party in the Legislature to the second one after 2016.

In other words, although an NDP government in Alberta is simply not in the cards over the medium term, the NDP could form the Opposition in 2016 if the party’s Legislative caucus is dealt the right cards in the next round of the great game of political poker … and manages to play them the right way.

Such an outcome would require a full measure of skill, since it is hard to see how it could come to pass without a degree of co-operation between the NDP and the right-wing Wildrose Party, which won 17 seats in the April 23 provincial election and is now the Opposition.

For it is axiomatic that if the NDP is to become the Opposition in 2016, the Wildrose Party will have to defeat the Progressive Conservatives under Premier Alison Redford and become the government – with all the dangers that would entail.

So the Wildrose Party’s 2012 campaign manager, former Stephen Harper confidante Tom Flanagan, almost certainly got it right when he told the Opposition party’s annual general meeting in November that the key to forming a Wildrose Government in 2016 is “to liberate those left-wing voters to go back and vote where they would actually vote.”

Of course, readers are forgiven if they wonder how this would benefit the NDP under Brian Mason or whomever follows him when it is the Alberta Liberal Party under Raj Sherman that is the third party in the Legislature, with five MLAs to the NDP’s four.

But this is why 2013 is such a crucial year to the NDP if it is going to vault from last place to second – because 2013 is the year the erstwhile Alberta Liberals, nowadays apparently known as the Libealbertans, are most likely to self destruct.

Certainly, the strains among Alberta Liberals are more evident than they have been for a long time. Indeed, it was a surprise to many and a disappointment to some that they didn’t collapse in the April election.

It is said here that Dr. Sherman – a medical doctor who has been accused of caring only about one issue, health care, and a former Progressive Conservative with Tory instincts – is not a natural leader for the Liberals. Party officials’ angry overreaction to the recent call by Liberal MLA Kent Hehr for centre-left parties to work together is one illustration. The Bronx cheer that greeted Dr. Sherman’s disappointing testimony before the health care preferential-treatment inquiry is another.

So a worthy if untraditional goal for the Alberta NDP in 2013 should be to ensure Liberal MLAs unhappy with Dr. Sherman’s leadership know they would be welcome in the New Democrat caucus.

For many reasons, this would probably be as hard for the four New Democrat MLAs as for any of their Liberal counterparts, but the payoff is potentially significant – attracting at least some of the Liberal voters who traditionally can’t stand the right-wing parties but view the NDP with almost equal discomfort.

On the other hand, if Dr. Sherman can hold his fragmented and unhappy caucus together through 2013, the opportunity to cement the NDP in the minds of Alberta voters as the natural centrist opposition party will be far more difficult to achieve.

But if the NDP can cross this important steppingstone without getting its feet wet in 2013, it will be in a position to achieve something much bigger after that.

It seems likely that in 2016, the PC Government will try to replay the campaign that worked for it in 2012 – to paint the Wildrose as social and economic extremists and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith as a doctrinaire market fundamentalist, and to woo worried NDP and Liberal supporters to a big tent party that they see as both progressive and conservative.

Public service union members are sure to be a seen by the Conservatives as a key part of this unlikely coalition – a goal that is in conflict with the government’s immediate need to appear fiscally tight-fisted in the face of more years of deficits and an inflexible resistance to raising taxes. So the government’s ability to shore up this corner of its coalition is far from a sure thing.

Thus if the Alberta Liberals fall apart in 2013 under Dr. Sherman – and time their collapse conveniently for the NDP – the fight for Liberal voters with no traditional home to go to will be between the NDP and the Conservatives.

Who gets them may hinge on how scary the Conservatives can make the Wildrose Party look versus how corrupt the Wildrose Party can make the Conservatives appear.

The NDP needs the Wildrose Party to succeed dramatically enough that the Conservatives are swept from the board, but not so dramatically there is no room for the last centrist party standing to effectively oppose the mischief a market-fundamentalist Wildrose government might get up to.

So the difficult question for the NDP would become: how much co-operation with the Wildrose Party would be a good thing, and how much could lead to a catastrophe?

Naturally, there will be no shortage of scoffers at this scenario, and fair enough. Maybe the Orange Wave of 2011 and the little Orange Ripple that followed it through Alberta in 2012 were just flukes and order has once again been restored to the universe.

Moreover, New Democrats have been known before to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Still, perhaps the cards really will start to break the NDP’s way in 2013. Whatever happens, next year is likely to be a significant one for Alberta New Democrats.

Happy New Year!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

9 Comments on "A last thought for 2012: 2013 is bound to be an important year for Alberta’s NDP"

  1. fubar says:

    Well David, in my opinion you got one thing right – Raj is not going to lead the Liberals to glory. Other than that, can’t say as I see much hope for your WAG (wild ass guess). And hoping (and praying?) for a a WR victory is just in bad taste.
    Here are a few of my thoughts in rebuttal of your WAG:
    1. Mason has not distinguished himself so far this session. If anything he is trying to be a bigger pearl clutcher than Smith. Conclusion: does not add any gravitas to his portfolio.
    2. There is a big difference between the national NDP and our provincial MLA’s. Nationally, the NDP is striving to become a more inclusive, centrist party. Provincially – not so much.
    3. Even if (by some evil, murphy’s law, trickster god’s will) the WR does indeed form the next government, don’t see the NDP getting many more seats than they already have. I mean, really – say they get 6 seats, who cares!.
    In my opinion, the NDP have not proven themselves worthy of any more seats than they already have.

  2. jay says:

    If the price for an NDP official opposition is a Wildrose government, then count me out.

  3. Jay has, in my view, very effectively summarized the problem the NDP faces that I was trying to get at, and he has done it with considerably greater economy of words. Kudos! I have no doubt a lot of Alberta voters will agree with him. As for Raj leading the Libs to glory, well, good on him if he can. If Fubar thinks this piece was a “WAG,” wait till he sees the first one of the New Year!

  4. daveberta says:

    I am sure that with the right message and under the right leadership the NDP in Alberta could elect more than four MLAs (though maybe not too many more). The question is whether the NDP will actually take the steps to do so.

    Back in 2007 or 2008 I attended an NDP convention in Edmonton and the keynote speaker was an NDP strategist from Nova Scotia (where the NDP went from distant last place to government in a span of 10-15 years). He spoke about the need for the NDP to moderate itself and essentially take over the Liberal Party position in the political spectrum.

    The NDP in Alberta appears to have moderated itself, lessening its more socialistic economic pronouncements, but it will be up to supporters of the party to decide whether a change in leadership is needed to take the NDP to the next level in Alberta. An inspiring leadership race with a new generation of candidates could give the NDP a significant boost in Conservative-dominated Alberta.

    • fubar says:

      Mason has done good things, but his time is past. The whole ‘this. is. worst. gov. evah!’ sthick is really annoying. Notley may be a prospect for the future – now that would be a rare and wonderful thing, the leaders of 3 of the main parties in AB led by a woman.

  5. Art says:

    One thing I would like to see is the NDP and Liberals take on this idea that Alison Redford is somehow progressive.

    She’s not. She’s big on progressive symbolic gestures, but if you look at her record – it’s pretty freaking right wing.

    She’s deeply in bed with the energy sector. Her government refused to make changes to the election act that might reduce the influence of business on her government. And her government passed a bill that effectively transfers complete control over environmental monitoring from government to the energy sector.

    Why do people think she is progressive? Likely because she put a small bump into education funding before the election, and because she marched in a pride parade. But look at her record:

    * After promising ‘stable, predictable funding’ in Education, just this month her ministers have told school boards to brace for cuts. Her promise didn’t even last a year.

    * Bill 44 is still the law of the land. Teachers are self-censoring before teaching tolerance of sexual minorities.

    * The Redford government caved into religious fundamentalists on the issue of the human rights code being mentioned in the Education act.

    If the Liberals lost so many votes to the PCs because Redford looked progressive, it seems to me a part of the strategy of that party and the NDP should be to start pointing out how the PCs and the Wildrose are really not very different.

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