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A tale of two parties: NDP stages slick post-victory convention while Wildrose opposition tears itself to pieces

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With resolutions advocating positions and principles perhaps a little too mindful of the Alberta NDP constitution's commitment to "the establishment of Democratic Socialism" and the notion that "Ecological Sustainability must permeate all economic and social policy," you'd think an NDP political convention would be an opportunity for the right-wing opposition to score points.

But the opening yesterday of the Alberta NDP's first annual convention since the party's stunning election victory in May 2015 went swimmingly, by all accounts, and Alberta's Opposition Wildrose Party was too busy ripping itself to pieces to muster even the expected cheap shots.

Media and individual reports from the convention floor in Calgary indicated the NDP event was well attended (more than 900 fully paid-up delegates and observers), slickly produced, tightly scripted and, not surprisingly under the circumstances for a majority governing party that two years ago had only four seats in the Legislature, upbeat. 

"There's never been an Alberta NDP convention where 54 of our delegates are also members of our Legislature," said Premier Rachel Notley in her opening remarks, which were met with cheers from the floor. What's more, she added, there's never been one "where one of the delegates" -- beat… beat … -- "also happens to be the premier!" (You can watch this, just as your blogger had to, on the Internet.)

The professional media's biggest complaint about the NDP convention seemed to be that it was far too much like the convention of a governing party, and hence reporters couldn't wander where they pleased. Oh well…

But there were, also inevitably, resolutions on the floor from NDP constituency associations that a properly functioning Opposition party could have had some fun with -- especially a market-fundamentalist party like the Wildrose to which, "Oh my God, they're talking about something," is proof of ideological imperfection and unsuitability for office.

This "Mom, she's looking at me" strategy was exactly the Harper Conservative/Wildrose Party position when the vote on the Leap Manifesto came before April's federal NDP convention in Edmonton. It's silly, but it’s a rhetorical technique that has enough of an audience in this province to legitimately concern NDP strategists.

And with resolutions on the floor calling for a moratorium on horizontal hydraulic fracking and a halt to all advocacy of pipeline development where First Nations, farmers and municipalities might object, the Wildrosers could have made some hay if the sun had been shining on them.

In a smoothly managed event like this one, of course, such resolutions' chances of even coming to a vote, let alone passing, are about as slim as those of the one calling for the Alberta NDP to separate from the federal party of the same name. Facts, though, have never stood in the way of a good Wildrose campaign.

Instead, it's raining on the Camp of the Wildrose, and the cooking fires have mostly gone out.

As of yesterday, the number of Wildrose constituency associations said to be demanding Leader Brian Jean's head on a platter for trying to suspend loose-cannon MLA Derek Fildebrandt from caucus is claimed to have risen above 25, making this a serious uprising.

Well-known political strategist Stephen Carter tweeted of Jean's intramural opponents -- noting that their leader has had good recent polls, just did well in a leadership review, lost his son in the past year, lost his home to the Fort Mac fire and won 22 seats for a party on the verge of collapse -- "these people are heartless."

The best Jean's supporters could do yesterday, meanwhile, was post a Facebook message endorsing the leader by Pat Stier, MLA for Livingstone-Macleod in Alberta’s Deep South, a fellow with about as low a profile as a rural opposition politician can have.

Meanwhile, Edmonton's Metro newspaper for some reason happened to pick yesterday to recycle an April 4 story about people declared by Elections Alberta to be ineligible to hold provincial office in Alberta for five years -- and unlike previous reports, Metro's made a point of noting that Jean's press secretary, Vitor Marciano, was on the list.

Marciano, who is a close Jean advisor, was chief financial officer for several Wildrose candidates, one of whom didn't submit a financial disclosure as required by law, hence the sanction. Wildrosers who are tired of Jean are likely to be tired of Marciano too.

So with the Opposition party preoccupied with damage control and infighting, it was left yesterday to individual supporters on the Internet and media headline writers to perpetrate the usual silliness, while the NDP got the laurels that go with being the governing party.

Meanwhile, an interesting race for the NDP's first vice-presidency between Calgary-area lawyer Anne Wilson, who appears to be supported by party establishment, and Edmonton union labour relations officer Jason Rockwell, who is running an effective insurgent campaign and has support in caucus, is scheduled to take place Sunday.

Perhaps while this is going on, Jean will be trying to see if he can drum up another MLA willing to endorse his leadership on Facebook or Twitter.

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

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