Tag Archives: Rachel Notley

Canada’s Famous Five would be proud

Photo Penney Kome © 2015

The swearing-in of Alberta’s new premier was a family affair. Photo by Penney Kome © 2015

By Penney Kome
May, 2015

“What’s going on?” asked the woman in the family piling out of their car with wading gear for the youngsters on a hot day, heading for the wading pools in front of the Alberta Legislature’s great domed and columned building. “Why is there a crowd?” 

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley, on May 3. Photo: Don Voaklander, creative commons

New Alberta premier Rachel Notley. Photo by Don Voaklander, Creative Commons

“They’re swearing in Rachel Notley as Premier,” I replied. “Oh,” she said, and then again, “Oh,” as she quickened her stride to join the crowd jamming themselves into front part of the great public square outside the “Ledge” of the Western Canadian province, so they could hear the proceedings. I had walked over from my hotel and arrived about 25 minutes before the ceremonies were scheduled to start, so I could watch as the people drifted in through the heat like cottonwood from the heritage poplar trees, settling first along the edges of the square in the shade, and then mounting the sides and the edges of the deep pool.

In the provincial capital of Edmonton, the immense Legislature plaza is a public space year round, like Toronto’s Nathan Philips Square, only terraced, and surrounded by a forest of sturdy pines and colourful elms, barberries and other seasonal trees. “The grounds were expanded north of the building in 1978 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the province,” says the “Welcome to the Legislature” brochure.  It continues, ”The project included the addition of the reflecting pool, fountains, wading pools, underground pedways and a new visitor centre. The project cost $62 million and was completed in 1982.

“Today the Legislature Grounds feature 56 acres of manicured lawns and trees. Each spring over 100,000 annuals are planted in the gardens. In the hot summer months many people enjoy the fountains and wading pools while in winter there is a skating rink on the south grounds. During the holiday season approximately 120,000 lights are added to 300 shrubs and trees on the north grounds, creating a winter wonderland…” And on this day, casually dressed pages and volunteers were handing out bright printed Swearing In programs to adults and paper Alberta flags to kids.

In the past, sometimes the populist purpose of the plaza has seemed at odds with the privileged financial elite who met within the buildings, to make decisions that benefited their friends. On Sunday May 24, as new Premier-to-be Rachel Notley strode out in her white blazer and bright orange strappy pumps, I was startled by the sheer volume of the crowd’s roar of approval. “A rock star welcome,” said Edmonton CTV.

True, the ever efficient-NDP online contact system had sent electronic invitations and RSVPs to everyone who’d ever signed an issue petition – and followed up with a donation request, for which Notley apologised and which was quickly withdrawn. True, the farther forward I got, the more I swam through a sea of orange teeshirts, indicating NDP staffers, canvassers or other volunteers. Still, Notley and others on the platform seemed shocked by the crowd, like a couple that planned a private informal wedding and suddenly the whole town turned up.

Moreover, when the crowd exploded during the speeches, the roar didn’t only come from the seated volunteers in front of me. An even louder roar came from behind me, a crowd full of families, many of them people of colour. The crowd looked more diverse than usual to me, and TV reports seem to confirm that impression. Maybe that’s just the usual crowd who turn out for some water fun on hot days – and this day was very hot – but CBC reported on one immigrant family that drove up from Calgary to see the installation. “Biftu Mohammed drove up from Calgary with two of her friends to watch the ceremony. ‘Just excited to celebrate the new government,” she said. “I’m just happy to see a government that represents me.’” 

The ceremony started punctually at 2. According to my souvenir Swearing In program, the first event was suppsed to be the entrance of the Vice Regal Party, and a Vice Regal Salute. However, the LG’s chief of staff announced that since Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell was ill with back problems, his functions were filled by the Administrator of the province – The Honourable Catherine A. Fraser, Q.C, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alberta. Since the LG’s chief of staff is also a woman, as well as half of Notley’s scant 11-member cabinet, the platform looked very different from past years. As did the audience.

The Vice Regal salute turned out to be abbreviated versions of God Save the Queen and O Canada. I couldn’t figure out why no one else joined in as soon as the music started, but we went from the first line to the last line on each. Done. Boom. Not even a minute for both. The Chief Justice acknowledged that the meeting was being held on Treaty 6 land and introduced two First Nation elders. Métis elder John Macdonald delivered a blessing, and Rocky Morin of the Enoch Cree Nation offered an honour song. Chief Justice Fraser read out the procedure for changing from the old government to the new one, starting with her declaration that, “I accept the resignation of Jim Prentice and his government today.” She had to pause when the crowd exploded in cheers, whoops, and whistles. Then she asked Rachel Notley if she was prepared to form the government, and Notley leaned over to the microphone to say, “Yes, I am,” to longer and louder cheers.

Although I’ve been covering the women’s movement since 1976, I never imagined I would ever see such a scene in my lifetime.

I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to imagine the reactions of Emily Murphy and Nellie McClung, who fought for the vote here 100 years ago. Though they formed a group that won the Person’s Case in 1929, Alberta didn’t get a woman senator until 1979, the 50th anniversary, the year I first wrote up the Famous Five. That year, accordng to this chart, I count four women serving in the Alberta Legislature, all conservatives, with maybe a dozen having served in Alberta before that.

Regardless of how much she might have liked a breather, or a transition period, Notley had to be sworn in as Premier right away. Nobody was running the province. Former Premier Jim Prentice promptly resigned and walked away, not afraid to look like a sore loser. As a lame duck, interim Conservative leader Rick McIver would face a steep learning curve with little payoff. Notley comes in with a lean Cabinet, most ministers carrying at least two portfolios, while she evaluates the strengths of the newly elected MLAs. She also comes in with a very comfortable majority of 53 or 54 (depending on possible recount/appeal), about 10 more than she needs to pass most bills, which allowed her to suspend new NDP MLA Deborah Driever for her reckless social media comments and photos, but still keep her in the house as an Independent. One out of 53 ain’t bad, in this kind of total government upset.

Seems to me that when John Turner lost Canada’s 1984 federal election, Brian Mulroney swept in with a host of newbie M Ps, of whom half a dozen in Quebec stumbled almost immediately.

Given the urgency, Notley might have chosen a quick, private ceremony with perhaps a photo op.

Or surely the Legislature’s protocol staff could have prescribed proper pomp. Instead, she stuck with the spirit of her campaign, to give top priority to at-home issues like job creation, health and education. Selecting the downtown public recreation place families go when they can’t afford West Edmonton Mall turned out to be the latest smart choice for the new Premier. 

Copyright Penney Kome 2015

Further reading on F&O:

Alberta once again the New Jerusalem, by Brian Brennan

NOTEBOOK: a bellwether election for Alberta?  By F&O

Remembering the Famous Five, a notebook by Brian Brennan

Reading elsewhere:

CBC news report on Alberta’s new cabinet

Copyright Penney Kome 2015

Penney KomeAward-winning journalist and author Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column for four years. Her books include Somebody Has To Do It: Whose Work Is Housework?   (McClelland &Stewart 1982); The Taking of Twenty-Eight: Women Challenge the Constitution (Women’s Educational Press, 1983); and Peace: A Dream Unfolding (Sierra Club Books 1986).  She was Editor of Straightgoods.com from 2004 – 2013. 

Read Penney Kome’s essay The Degree Bubble, June 2014

For more information, see Penney Kome’s page at the Writer’s Union of Canada.

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Subscribe by email to our free FRONTLINES, a blog announcing new works, and the odd small tale. Look for evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. Some of our original works are behind a paywall, available with a $1 site day pass, or with a subscription from $2.95/month – $19.95/year. If you value journalism, please help sustain us.

 

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Rachel Notley was born to lead Alberta NDP

Photo Dave Cournoyer via Flickr, Creative Commons

Alberta’s newly-elected NDP premier, Rachel Notley Photo Dave Cournoyer via Flickr, Creative Commons

Alberta is once again the New Jerusalem, writes historian, author and F&O columnist Brian Brennan. An excerpt of his dispatch:

Alberta, the home province of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been viewed for 80 years – ever since the right-wing Social Credit Party was elected in 1935 – as Canada’s bastion of rock-ribbed conservatism. Or, as Alberta author Aritha van Herk put it, Alberta has been stereotyped as a province defined by such terms as “redneck, intolerant, racist, conservative, neo-Christian, suspicious of anything new, home of white supremacists, gun lovers, and not a few book-banning school boards.” Until now, after Albertans went to the polls to elect a new provincial government and change that image.

 Click to read Alberta once again the New Jerusalem.

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. 

 

 

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Alberta once again the New Jerusalem

Photo Dave Cournoyer via Flickr, Creative Commons

Rachel Notley’s father advised: “Don’t talk about it, just do it.” On May 5 she did, leading Alberta’s NDP to power. Photo by Dave Cournoyer/Flickr, Creative Commons

By Brian Brennan 
May 6, 2015 

In 1971, the year the now irrelevant Progressive Conservative party first rose to power in Alberta, a Canadian folk-pop group from Montreal called The Bells had a million-selling hit titled “Stay Awhile.” It stayed in the American Top 50 for 11 weeks. The last line of the chorus went, “guess I’m gonna stay with you awhile.” That could have been a mantra for the PCs of that era. They remained at the helm for the next 44 years. 

Alberta, the home province of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been viewed for 80 years – ever since the right-wing Social Credit Party was elected in 1935 – as Canada’s bastion of rock-ribbed conservatism. Or, as Alberta author Aritha van Herk put it, Alberta has been stereotyped as a province defined by such terms as “redneck, intolerant, racist, conservative, neo-Christian, suspicious of anything new, home of white supremacists, gun lovers, and not a few book-banning school boards.”

On Tuesday, Albertans went to the polls to elect a new provincial government and change that image. A month ago, when Premier Jim Prentice called the election, it was widely expected that his Progressive Conservatives would cakewalk to another victory. Their only serious opposition in the previous, 2012 election had been the Wildrose Party, running to their right. But the Wildrosers had been reduced to a five-seat rump after one member left to sit as an independent and 11 more, including party leader Danielle Smith, crossed the floor to join the PCs. That gave the Tories 70 seats in the 87-seat legislature.

The other parties didn’t seem to pose much of a threat. The third-place Liberals also held five seats at dissolution. The left-leaning New Democratic Party came in fourth and last with four seats. Neither was expected to figure prominently in the 2015 vote, mainly because the Liberals hadn’t formed a government since the United Farmers of Alberta dispatched them in 1921, and the NDP had never come anywhere close to forming a government.

But the Alberta of 2015 is not the Alberta of 1921. Nor is it the province that put Social Credit in power in 1935. Nor is it the one that handed the reins to the Tories in 1971. The province’s two biggest cities, Calgary and Edmonton, are both led by progressive mayors: Naheed Nenshi and Don Iveson. The Alberta of the 21st century is increasingly cosmopolitan, forward-thinking, diverse and inclusive. Collapsing oil prices have taken away some of the province’s financial robustness. But they haven’t taken away its spirit or its optimism.

From the start of the campaign, it became clear – if it hadn’t been so before – that the Progressive Conservatives represented a party run by and for the business elite of the province. Premier Prentice announced that the election would be tantamount to a vote on his first budget; an austerity document that imposed 59 new taxes or levies on individuals, but none on corporations. This provided great ammunition for NDP leader Rachel Notley who told her supporters that if the affluent and the well-connected were to contribute just a little bit more – specifically, a two percent increase in the current corporate tax rate of 10 percent – hospital wait times would be reduced, health care would improve, and 12,000 children would have teachers when they showed up for school next fall. From that point on, Prentice stopped talking about his budget, and began to talk about the dangers of electing a socialist government in Alberta that would lead the province to financial ruin.

Notley, one of the finest platform speakers in Alberta politics, struck an immediate and resonant chord with voters. Speaking without notes and dappling her speeches with good-humoured digs at what she called “this never-ending circus instead of a government,” she drew loud cheers every time she told her listeners they didn’t have to keep repeating history in this province; they could make history by voting for progressive change. 

Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, Incumbent premier. Photo: premier's office

Jim Prentice resigned both his seat and his leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party, immediately after the election. Photo: premier’s office

Notley’s message undoubtedly got through. On Tuesday night, Albertans voted for the first social-democratic government in the province’s history, giving 53 seats to the NDP, 21 seats to the revitalized Wildrose, and relegating the Tories to third place with 10 seats. Premier Prentice immediately resigned as party leader and his newly recaptured seat as MLA. A former federal politician, he had not re-entered public life to lead the third party in the provincial legislature. The Liberals were left with one seat and the new left-leaning Alberta Party also took one seat.

Notley was born to play the role of NDP leader. Her father, a self-styled “middle-of-the-road socialist” named Grant Notley, was a pioneering politician who scored the NDP’s first seat in the Alberta legislature in 1971, the same year the Tories began their 44-year reign. Grant Notley served as a one-man caucus for much of the next 13 years. When he died in 1984, in a light plane crash at age 45, his daughter was a 20-year-old law school undergraduate. She then worked as a labour lawyer and honed her skills as a backroom political operative for close to two decades before entering Alberta politics as a 43-year-old MLA in 2008. The best bit of political advice her father had ever given her: “Don’t talk about it, just do it.”

On Tuesday night she did it. Against all odds, Notley won a majority government with a party of mostly untried political rookies who have never sat in a legislature before. In that respect, Notley’s NDPers of 2015 are no different than William Aberhart’s Social Crediters of 1935 or Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservatives of 1971. Most of them were political neophytes too. For progressive-minded voters, Alberta – as the evangelical preacher Aberhart liked to say – has once again become the New Jerusalem.

Notley’s first challenge will be to convince the Alberta business community that she’s not the scary monster portrayed by her desperate opponents during the final days of the campaign, when all the polls were pointing to an NDP victory. With a $7-billion crater in the province’s finances, she has her work cut out for her. But Albertans clearly trust her and feel she’s up to the task. Her father would have been proud.

One of the other million-selling hits of 1971 was a song by country singer Jerry Reed titled “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.” It too stayed in the American charts for 11 weeks. The second line of the chorus went, “and when you’re not, you’re not.” That could have become the new mantra for Alberta’s routed Progressive Conservatives on Tuesday night.

Copyright Brian Brennan 2015

Clarification: This story has been changed for clarity, to note that Albertans voted in a social-democratic (instead of a “socialist”) government.

References:

Alberta Elections, results: http://results.elections.ab.ca/wtResultsPGE.htm

Related on F&O:

NOTEBOOK: a bellwether election for Alberta? Sean Holman on Alberta’s lack of transparency, and Penney Kome on Alberta politics

Canada’s Mayor: Naheed Nenshi. By Brian Brennan, Facts and Opinions magazine feature (paywall)

Video:

Rachel Notley’s victory speech (click here for text transcript on NDP site): 

Jim Prentice’s concession speech:

 

 

Brian Brennan

Brian Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions, author of the Brief Encounters arts column, and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut. 

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.  

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation, by clicking below; by telling others about us; or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Alberta election: is change in the wind?

 

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley, on May 3. Photo: Don Voaklander, creative commons

Polls suggest Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley has a shot at governing. Photo: Don Voaklander, creative commons

Could Alberta be the bellwether for shifting politics in North America’s oil patch communities?

Alberta citizens vote in a provincial election today.  Alberta — world famous as home of the oil sands — has been ruled by the Progressive Conservative party for more than four decades, and it is the base of Canada’s hard-right federal Conservative government. Now the socialist New Democratic Party, which received less than 10 per cent of the popular vote in 2012,  is on a wave of massive popular support, and numerous opinion polls give it a shot at governing.

The election of a socialist government in right-wing Alberta would have been unthinkable until now — but amid social and political upheaval, global oil prices are volatile and plunging, and communities almost entirely reliant on oil and gas extraction are suffering. 

Alberta-based journalists Penney Kome and Sean Holman consider aspects of the issues.

The election, writes Holman, is “a missed opportunity to change that indifference, raising awareness among Albertans about why their information rights are important and how those rights can prevent another 44 years of unaccountable governments in this province.”  

“Alberta, the province that elected North America’s first Muslim mayor, is flirting with another surprise: a feminist New Democrat government — or at least Opposition,” writes Kome.

Click here to read NOTEBOOK: a bellwether election for Alberta?

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