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End of exile seems likely for Deborah Drever, expelled from Alberta NDP caucus for tasteless social media posts

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Deborah Drever

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A welcome effort to rehabilitate Independent Calgary MLA Deborah Drever, pilloried soon after the victory of the New Democratic Party in last spring's provincial election for inappropriate social media posts she had published before running for office, appears to be under way.

It's about time. Not many of us have lived perfect lives, online or off, and nowadays we should all live by the dictum: "Let he who is without digital sin cast the first virtual stone."

Drever, who represents the riding of Calgary-Bow, was one of the NDP MLAs, many youthful, elected in the unexpected Orange Tsunami that rolled over Alberta on May 5.

It is quite fair to say that while Alberta New Democrats expected to do well in the election, they hadn't thought they would form a commanding majority government. It is also reasonable to describe the traditionally Conservative Calgary seat won by Drever, who is now 27, as one of those the New Democrats had not expected to win, at least at the start of the campaign.

Did the NDP fail to exercise due diligence in picking Drever as a candidate? Perhaps. But not any less than all other Alberta parties in many recent elections. Her post-election difficulties certainly showed a lack of attention to the need to scrutinize and sanitize candidates' social media accounts before an election.

Regardless, the discovery of a series of tasteless social media posts either sent by Drever or picturing her, some dating back to when she was a teenager, was a welcome distraction for the battered conservative opposition parties, both of which seemed to have started the campaign imagining they would win the election. It went to their emerging narrative that the new NDP Government members were not merely rookies, they weren’t who Albertans really wanted to run their government at all.

This is a highly dubious proposition -- it’s said here Alberta voters had considered what they were about to do when they voted in droves for the NDP -- but it is understandable from the Opposition’s perspective as a way to spin a difficult moment in their history. At that time, it may for them have been a case of any old port in a storm.

How bad were Drever's posts? Some were certainly in extremely poor taste. One picture, a garage band album cover, seemed to glamourize, or at least tolerate, violence against women. Drever was 19 at the time she appeared in it. Another contained a homophobic message, although some people thought it was meant in an ironic way.

At first, Premier Rachel Notley assigned Drever the job of working on a plan to raise awareness of violence against women. But the young MLA was soon kicked out of the NDP caucus when more bad-taste social media posts emerged. She continued to sit as an Independent, despite pro forma demands by opposition activists that she resign.

If the treatment meted out to Drever seemed harsh, politics is a rough game played with elbows up, and even candidates who don’t expect to win should be ready to be given a hard time. It's something to think about if you’re pondering a new career in public life. At any rate, she continued to work diligently on the "homework" assigned by the premier as she sat as an Independent.

Now Drever has brought forward a valuable private member's bill to protect women who are victims of domestic abuse. Bill 204 would amend the Residential Tenancies Act to permit victims of spousal abuse to break their residential leases without financial penalty to make it easier for them to escape violent domestic situations.

Even the Calgary Herald, normally the fearless champion of the overdog, editorialized favourably about the Residential Tenancies (Safer Spaces for Victims of Domestic Violence) Amendment Act, 2015.

The bill got a powerful boost in the public's imagination on Monday when NDP MLA Maria Fitzpatrick stood in the Legislature and emotionally recounted the horrific violence she, her children and other family members had faced during her marriage.

The Lethbridge-East MLA, who was 23 when she married in 1972, tearfully told how she endured nine years of severe violence and threats of death before she and her two young children were able to flee their home in Cincinnati. "Broken bones, black eyes, sexual assault and two miscarriages as a result of this abuse were only some of the physical atrocities I had to endure," Fitzpatrick told the Legislature, urging members of all parties to support Drever's private member's bill.

Some tears were shed and Fitzpatrick received a standing ovation from members of all parties. That afternoon Drever's private member's bill passed second reading with overwhelming support.

Bill 204 will likely manage the feat of passing despite not being a government bill, since there seems to be a growing consensus it's too important to be allowed to die on the order paper. Perhaps it had a little government help along the way too.

If it doesn't pass, it is almost certain to come back as a government bill -- perhaps with Drever's name still on it.

The bill's treatment by the entire Legislature suggests Drever can expect soon to be welcomed back to the NDP caucus, and possibly without either the MLA herself or her party being given too hard a time about it by the Opposition.

That would be an appropriate conclusion to this difficult story.

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

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