In her first major speech since losing the Alberta election to Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party on April 16, Rachel Notley called on her supporters not to allow conservatives to rewrite history to suit their own ends.
"Make no mistake," she warned a friendly crowd at the Alberta Federation of Labour's biennial convention in Calgary on the day before the anniversary of her unexpected majority victory in 2015, "they're already trying."
Now the leader of the province's 24-MLA Opposition, Notley told the crowd of about 300 union activists at the Telus Convention Centre that Premier Kenney has "sent up already false flags on our finances."
What the premier is doing, she asserted, is "preparing excuses to proceed with cuts to the programs that regular families rely on."
She described Kenney's objective as being "just to cover up the actual hole that he plans to blow in the budget when he gives a massive $4.5-billion corporate tax cut." That, she continued, "will cost each and every one of us in our health care, our education and our infrastructure."
Of course almost all governments pretend the economic situation of the jurisdiction they have just inherited is far worse than what we were all told before the election. Indeed, about the only recent exception to this rule was the New Democrats of 2015, and it's said here they would have had plenty of cause to attack the Progressive Conservative government they replaced.
Well, maybe Notley has learned a thing or two from her recent experience at the polls. At any rate, she set out to do a little narrative building of her own to ensure Albertans hear from her first about how to view the new government they have chosen.
"We knew that we needed to diversify our economy after decades of inaction, and that starting that work was the only way to create good, long-term sustainable jobs for Albertans," she said. "Despite the rhetoric that we hear from the other side, there are 80,000 more Albertans working today than there were at the height of the recession, and there are more Albertans working today than when we first got elected. Yes, there is more to do. But we laid out a plan that worked and was working."
Notley then turned to the direction set by the Kenney government, and the dangers she said it poses.
"On the topic of conservative history, let's take a look at their first week," she continued, to chuckles from her audience.
"Against all advice, he signed into law Bill 12, rather than use it strategically. He's giving the courts time to shoot it down. In other words, he is letting them disarm the missile while it's sitting on the launch pad. All in the interests of making threats and generating headlines!"
"Alberta is this close to getting a pipeline," Notley continued. "And Mr. Kenney is putting this project in danger. If Mr. Kenney is allowed to treat the pipeline like a political football, which is exactly what he's doing right now, then all it will ever be is a political football. And that is not what Albertans deserve."
It's one of Kenney's successes, one must concede, that the term "social license" is not much used any more. Still, it was what Notley had in mind when she told her listeners that "if we want the pipeline, we need to keep bringing Canadians with us, not turning them against us.
"But that's what Mr. Kenney is risking," she said.
She assailed Kenney for his UCP government's apparent aversion to accountability. "This week, I called for a special prosecutor to be appointed because for the first time in Alberta's history, and quite frankly the history of most any other province in the country, we have a premier and an attorney general whose leadership campaigns are closely linked to matters under police investigation!
"Fake emails, shady donations, electoral fraud. This is a sorry state of affairs and quite frankly their failure to appoint a special prosecutor to clean up the process, to keep the system clean, demonstrates incredibly bad judgment, very early on," she stated.
Speaking of bad judgment, the former premier added, "we also have a person with a lifetime of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in charge of GSAs.
"During the campaign, Mr. Kenney routinely dismissed these kids, and said no one cares. Well, I would say that he should tell that to the thousands of kids who walked out of class yesterday in support of their friends, in support of their safe spaces, in support of their own human rights."
Predicting disaster if Kenney keeps his promises, she derided the premier's desire for "a rollback of the climate leadership plan that secured our province federal approval of a pipeline, but also … created jobs and generated the most significant reduction of greenhouse gases in the history of our country."
"Just yesterday, Saskatchewan learned that the federal government has a right to impose their own plan. Now if Mr. Kenney has his way, Alberta's opening itself up to Ottawa's plan. Great! That's what we're all looking for. Having Ottawa come in and tell us what to do about climate change. That's his plan.”
Recalling the filibuster by the four-member NDP caucus in defence of public sector pensions before the 2015 election, Notley reminded her listeners that "today we have 24, so let me just say … we can filibuster forever. If they start coming after workers' rights, that's exactly what you're going to see."
Well, for all that, it will be a long and bumpy road ahead, no doubt.
Nevertheless, the new Opposition leader did not give the impression of a person who has given in to despair, or who is ready, as she put it, to wrap herself in a blanket and start watching Season One of Game of Thrones again.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post is also found on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Image: David J. Climenhaga
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