The party would need to speak forthrightly about things that really matter to city people. This would require some courage. That said, urban Albertans just might be ready for a little honest-to-goodness social democracy in the context of treating city folks and their taxes with some long-overdue respect.
Anyway, the Alberta NDP's current strategy can hardly be described as a screaming success.
Here are five urban issues that would work for the NDP in Alberta:
Public Transit. Everyone knows how Alberta tax dollars flow to rural areas for irrigation projects, first-class highways, health facilities, Cadillac schools and a host of other costly benefits. Meanwhile, we need decent, efficient, safe, fast public transit in our cities. But while transit helps the environment and saves a bundle down the line, it costs a fortune up front. The NDP should really fight for public transit, not just pay it lip service like all those right-wing parties.
Social Services. When Tories cut social services, who pays? Urban taxpayers, that’s who! We pay more for policing, health care, basic services required just to keep our fellow humans from freezing to death. We pay in crime, run-down neighbourhoods, foregone business opportunities and illness, physical and mental. And ever-higher municipal taxes, of course. Rural-based, rural-focused parties like the Conservatives don’t really give a hoot. By speaking up for social services and an end to downloading costs as city issues, the NDP would be speaking up for urban taxpayers, safer cities and a better life. They'd also be fighting for the socially disadvantaged, which is as it should be.
Child Care. Yes, child care. It's bloody well time for child care! God knows, 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. It’s also a prosperity issue -- as a method of stimulating the economy, child care dollars are worth about five times infrastructure spending. All the other parties will say we can't afford it -- you know, all the parties that stand for low hydrocarbon royalties, scientifically unsound carbon storage schemes and generous donations to the upkeep of rural electoral districts.
Public Health Care. Decent hospitals and enough health professionals are an urban issue. Mental health facilities that work, where they’re needed – like Alberta Hospital Edmonton, the world-class psychiatric facility the government recently tried to close, then backed off when a broad coalition of everyone from the police to the unions screamed. Public health and emergency treatment facilities belong in every part of our urban communities. So do publicly run seniors' residences. And how about health regions based in our cities? Alberta's urban health regions did innovative, effective things to bring quality public health care to our metropolitan areas. The Stelmach Tories eliminated them to appeal to their rural base.
Public Education. Investing in public education obviously benefits the province. It pays dividends in terms of quality of life in our communities. It eases the impact of unemployment, especially for young people. It helps urban working families. What a concept -- create vast long-term advantages for society by helping young people now! Caps on tuition, adequate funding for institutions, and schools where we need them -- which is not necessarily in the village of Manyberries -- add up to a terrific urban issue. If we can pay billions for carbon capture, we can afford millions for decent schools.
The NDP should speak to these issues. 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, issues that matter to city people, rich and poor alike.
They wouldn't have to badmouth rural areas. But seeing as folks there are not going to vote NDP anyway, no matter what, they wouldn't need to put a heck of a lot of effort into developing a platform for them either!
Alberta's city taxpayers get screwed. Street crime, sky-high municipal taxes, potholes, poor health facilities, doctor shortages, slippery streets and pathetic public transit are all glaring examples. No Alberta party likely to form a government soon will sacrifice rural votes to serve the people who really provide the energy, 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. Or it can wither into obscurity.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.
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