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NDP leadership race may liberate Albertan New Democrats

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MP Niki Ashton/Photo: Olav Rokne

Like a rural highway through northern Alberta, the federal New Democratic Party's leadership race has seemed long, slow, and not particularly interesting.

There's always the possibility a moose will dash out in front of your pickup truck,* but mainly it's just been the sight of trees whizzing past, kilometre after interminable kilometre.

With Premier Rachel Notley's NDP government holding down by far the most seats in the Legislative Building in Edmonton, a busy United Conservative opposition party sucking up all the oxygen in the media, and an Alberta election beginning to loom, you'd think the federal NDP race that may end today would have been the subject of intense interest in Alberta political circles, and not just on the government side.

Instead … not so much.

This is partly by accident -- it’s not 2012 anymore. That is to say, New Democrats, in Alberta and elsewhere, are no longer in shock at the death of Jack Layton, the leader who the year before brought them to the threshold of government in Ottawa. The future doesn't look as bright as it did when NDPers picked the disappointing Thomas Mulcair to replace him. Justin Trudeau is prime minister.

It’s partly by design. It's obviously been made clear to Notley’s 55-member caucus they should stay the heck away from candidate endorsements or campaign roles -- especially since, as of right now, it doesn't seem as if there's a single potential leader among the four candidates likely to be much help to the Notley Government's political need to support pipeline development outside the province.

A few hints of a friendlier attitude by some seem to have vanished with the cold reality of the prevailing views of voters in other provinces, especially those in the NDP universe.

Meanwhile, over at Alberta's United Conservative Party, former Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney and former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean are still theoretically battling over the leadership, and so have other fish to fry. An increasingly confident Kenney is starting to take more aggressive shots at the NDP, however, and we can expect more of this soon.

Still, the fact Canada's NDPers are possibly going to choose one of Northern Ontario MP Charlie Angus, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, Quebec MP Guy Caron or Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh as leader today, is for a lot of Alberta New Democrats a bit like that metaphorical moose in the first paragraph rising out of a swamp and hurtling across the highway in front of their pickup.*

Could any of them, upon assuming the leadership of the national party, be pushed toward supporting the Alberta NDP’s pipe (line) dreams? Only if there are the votes in other provinces, and that seems like a diminishing prospect for a national party.

But not having a candidate to vote for who is likely to enhance the prospects for the Alberta NDP may have had a liberating effect for Alberta New Democrats.

If they’re so inclined, they can vote for the candidate they think most likely to poach from the Liberals' traditional voter base, including Canada's large immigrant communities. Say, Jagmeet Singh.

If they think they can make it happen, they can vote for a candidate they think is most likely to swing left and duplicate the feats of Bernie Sanders in the United States and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. Say, Niki Ashton.

Or maybe they'll plump for the traditional relationship with working people, as Angus suggests, or for a strong voice in Quebec, where the party had its breakthrough in 2011 and where Caron represents constituents.

Savvy Alberta New Democrats who want to help their provincial party's prospects will support the candidate they think is most likely to focus on things that will have a positive impact on Alberta and Albertans over the longer term, like support for public services, a responsible national revenue policy, and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

If any candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the vote on the party's preferential ranked ballots today, that will add up to victory. If none of them do, another vote will commence, with voting ending on October 8. If there’s still no winner, the process repeats, with the ballots counted on October 15. Conventional wisdom says Singh will come first today.

*This is Alberta, people.

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

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