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Reflections on the end of the Alberta NDP's first session: Voters want the government to succeed

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Shannon Phillips


Maybe it's just me, over the mountains and far away out here in La-La Land, but I don't get the feeling Albertans are ready just yet to start wishing their province's New Democratic Government will stumble and fall -- as the Wildrose Opposition clearly thinks.

That day may come, of course, but we're a long way from being there yet. So the Wildrose Party's swift reversion in the short session that ended yesterday to the familiar role of Team Angry, which the rural social-conservative rump wears as comfortably as a scuffed old boot, is unlikely to do much to energize voters or woo them back to the conservative movement.

Au contraire! Albertans voted for Rachel Notley's NDP in numbers worthy of epochal change with a profound sense of hope that they could be part of a better future at a moment in history parties of the conservative establishment seemed to have taken a wrong turn and then doubled down on the destructive ideology that has recently driven their policies.

In other words, on May 5 Alberta voters did much the same thing as they did in 1935 when they elected Social Credit and in 1971 when they voted in Peter Lougheed's PCs -- they rolled the dice and took a chance on being on the right side of history!

Now, even though they may be nervous about the state of the province's economy and its implications for their futures, they’d like to think they did the right thing.

As such, most ordinary Albertans still have the NDP's wind in their sails and want the party to succeed. And I'll bet you -- notwithstanding the hysterical denunciations emanating from the usual suspects in the Opposition and media -- most voters still view the NDP with optimism and view the short session that just ended as a modest success. In other words, voters are still prepared to give the Dippers a chance to produce results.

Let me say this again: Albertans want the NDP to succeed.

Think about this for a moment as someone who isn't hooked on inside baseball, as are most readers of blogs like this. You've taken a chance and voted for something different. Don't normal people in that position hope the beneficiary of their votes will do well, and not produce a train wreck?

Of course they do! And that's precisely the spot Martha and Henry Albertan are in right now.

Now, just because Alberta voters want the NDP they just elected to succeed, that doesn't mean they won't be ready to do something about it if the government fails. But they're going to wait for evidence of actual failure.

It's also quite natural for the Opposition to want the opposite -- especially the two conservative parties, one of which represents the worst instincts of the conservative movement and the other of which hasn't yet come to terms with what just happened to it and wishes to write the results of the May 5 election off as a fluke, the work of an incompetent leader, a lousy campaign, bad luck or some combination thereof.

But the Opposition, the Wildrose in particular, needs to keep in mind that it won't go over particularly well with those same voters -- still feeling both surprised and a little pleased about what they've just done -- if they try to give the NDP a push to make sure they stumble.

That's why I think the Wildrose attack yesterday on Environment Minister Shannon Phillips' contribution to that allegedly "radical book" was fundamentally misconceived.

I expect, at least, that Albertans will wait to see how Phillips performs as minister before they decide if they're ready to give her a shove. They won't like it that the Wildrosers are trying to portray her as some kind of terr'ist for contributing an introduction, for crying out loud, to a collection of work by a variety of authors with a variety of points of view on social action and political protest. She inspired it? Please!

But then, we're well known as a well-educated province, and most Albertans' lips don't get tired just thinking about the idea of reading a book!

A personal note here: the last time I contributed a chapter to such an effort I was sued for defamation for something another contributor said. So if you're considering joining such an effort, I'd advise you to demur. That said, neither Phillips nor I can rewind history and Albertans think of themselves as fair minded, so I expect they understand this.

It's quite possible, of course, that voters are both pleased with the NDP's spending decisions and worried about where the money to pay for them will come. But Wildrose huffing and puffing about Phillips' literary contributions is unlikely to come off as anything but a mean-spirited effort to sandbag a government in which voters have invested their hopes.

Likewise Albertans are unlikely to let their lingering upbeat mood be rattled by the ad hominem attacks on some NDP staffers by the usual suspects among the media's increasingly hysterical angry brigade of neoliberal columnists -- especially those associated with such dubious causes as funding climate-change denial who think quoting Ezra Levant is argument from authority!

No, to start changing voters' minds, the Opposition and media will need to produce evidence of real policy failure, and, so far, there's no such thing despite a litany of scary predictions of economic apocalypse worthy of the script of a zombie movie.

The bottom line: the Opposition is going to have to do better than this to make Albertans stop wishing success to their NDP government.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga' blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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