Acting like someone with a serious chance of returning to the premier's office in 2023, Alberta New Democratic Party Leader Rachel Notley received a 98.2 per cent approval vote in the opposition party's leadership review Sunday.
The former Alberta premier set out a hopeful vision of how her next government would "transform Alberta into the greatest powerhouse of renewable energy in North America by moving our electricity grid to net zero by 2035."
"The world is changing but we must change with it," Notley told party members in a convention speech streamed on Facebook live.
While Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party "sticks their heads in the sand, the biggest players in our oil sector including Suncor, Shell, Enbridge, Cenovus, CNRL and more are all moving ahead with the same big goal: net zero emissions," she stated.
"So this is coming, and it presents Alberta with a choice. Do we go down clinging to the energy industry of the past, watching Jason Kenney's plan fail again? Or do we plan for the energy industry of the future?”
"Today, I commit to you, we will not look backwards. We will lead."
That vision also includes child care, said Notley, who surprised many by sticking around after her party's election loss in 2019 to continue the fight for her vision of Alberta.
"We'll have truly affordable, universal child care. Because we will not keep on pretending that taking on a second or a third job to pay for child care is just the cost of having a family.
"Economists, the heads of banks, business leaders, they all agree that child care is an economic win, one that carries with it real social benefits," she said. "Our child-care program would not only put 40,000 people back to work, most of them women, it would provide the kind of high-quality, early learning opportunities that make the fundamental difference in the lives of all children."
It will cement in those children a love of learning, she went on with a twinkle in her eye, "that they will carry with them right into grade school -- where we will then make sure they have a kindergarten-to-Grade-6 curriculum that actually prepares them for the future." (This is a reference, for those of you reading this outside Alberta, to the extremely controversial curriculum emphasizing many of Kenney's hobbyhorses that was introduced by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange in March.)
Notley also promised to get on with critical projects like the Green Line rapid transit project in Calgary, currently stymied by UCP opposition.
The former premier had harsh words for Kenney's leadership qualities, and the disunited state in which his misnamed party has found itself as a result. "The UCP can't govern themselves, let alone govern the province," she stated.
Turning to the scandal that erupted after a mystery photographer snapped photos of the premier and three of his senior ministers breaking COVID-19 restrictions at a rooftop patio party in the government office building penthouse mockingly known as the Sky Palace, Notley observed that "COVID showed us who Albertans are, and who Jason Kenney is not.
"He's no leader. He can't be trusted to do the right thing.
"If we needed any more evidence, it arrived just last week. Those photos showing the premier and his most senior leaders huddled around a table on top of his private Sky Palace patio? Not a care in the world! No masks! No distancing! No rules! Just whisky, waiters, and a white linen tablecloth.
"They revealed the real Jason Kenney, a man who refuses to let his own rules prevent him from living his best life. The life that you and I can't have yet."
"The sun setting, the wine flowing, and the smell of booze hangin' in the air. It's the old boys' club, flying high above us all. Arrogant. Entitled. And, let's be honest, a little drunk on power.
"Because that's what all of this is about for them. Jason Kenney isn't here for people. He's here for power. Which means, he's not here for you.”
As for Notley's overwhelming support from convention delegates, this is quite different from the reality now facing Kenney, who is taking shots daily from restive UCP members at odds with how the party has handled the COVID-19 pandemic and his government's recent tumble in the polls.
The premier's most vocal UCP critics, influenced by the party's anti-vaccination and anti-mask base, tend to be former Wildrose Party members who attack him for having any COVID-19 restrictions at all.
But yesterday another UCP MLA criticized the premier from the other side of the issue.
In an obvious reference to the premier and his three amigos atop the Sky Palace last Tuesday, Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried called upon "ALL elected representatives, from all levels of government across our province to show leadership, to act responsibly and to avoid the hypocrisy that makes a mockery of the tough decisions we have to make and the sacrifices/responsible behaviour we have been asking of each and every Albertan for the past 15 months."
An unconfirmed report last night indicated Gotfried had resigned his position as UCP Calgary caucus chair so that he could speak without reservations.
This is something new. An MLA from the Progressive Conservative side of the UCP coalition joining the internal critics of the premier's policies and actions.
So there you have it: Notley's NDP may not be new as its name suggests, it was founded in 1961 after all, but it is united. Kenney's party is no longer united, as its name would have us believe, but it is new, founded in 2017.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.
Image credit: NDP/Facebook live screenshot
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