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Rachel Notley expected to enter Alberta NDP leadership race today

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Rachel Notley

Good morning, everyone. Although you may not have realized it yet, today is one of the most interesting days of the year in Alberta politics.

That is because, later this morning in Calgary, and then again in the afternoon in Edmonton, Rachel Notley, 50, one of the most interesting politicians in Alberta, is going to announce her candidacy in the only interesting political race in in the province.

The instant she makes it official -- soon after 9:30 a.m. at Niko's Bistro in Calgary's trendy Kensington neighbourhood -- she will be the frontrunner in the race to replace Brian Mason as leader of the only Alberta opposition party that actually opposes stuff that’s worth opposing.

Now, people, this is an inference. But if Notley were going to announce that she's not running, why would she schedule two news conferences to do it at? C'mon! She's running. The second newser will be at 2:30 p.m. at Iconoclast Koffihuis on Edmonton’s much-less-trendy 105th Avenue.

Notley is a highly capable labour lawyer and a supremely capable politician, able to get elected and reelected in a province not known for its recent tolerance for New Democrats. Granted, she did so in Edmonton-Strathcona, a riding populated by unusual numbers of progressive Albertans owning to the fact it includes much of the University of Alberta district. The federal riding of the same name occupying some of the same territory has also elected a New Democrat.

But getting elected under an orange banner in Alberta is never easy, and Notley's seat, which had been occupied by former NDP Leader Raj Pannu before her, remains about as safe as an Alberta seat can be for an Opposition politician thanks to her abilities.

She is quite simply one of the most able Parliamentarians you could ever ever meet.

Notley is the automatic front-runner for two reasons, the first one obvious from the foregoing. The other reason is that, as Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson put it in a recent profile, she is the only candidate in possession of "the Notley Brand."

"It's not just that Notley has proven herself one of the most capable opposition MLAs in the Legislature, her name is synonymous with the NDP in Alberta," Thomson wrote. "She is the daughter of an icon of the Alberta Left, Grant Notley, who as NDP leader was elected as an MLA in 1971, coincidentally the same year the PC dynasty began."

Grant Notley died in a plane crash in 1984. But as Thomson rightly pointed out, it was his work that made possible the high-water mark of the Alberta NDP, when in 1986 it became the official Opposition with 16 seats. It would not be too strong to say the Notley name is revered in social democratic circles in Alberta.

So in a sense, Notley is in a position not unlike that of Jim Prentice, the frontrunner in that other leadership race -- the extremely boring contest involving the governing Progressive Conservative Party, which stands a strong chance of coming out of the next general election with about as many seats as the New Democrats hold today. That would be four. OK, maybe they'll get eight, if you believe all the rumours about secret polls you hear. Whatever.

So what makes the NDP race so interesting if Notley's leading by so much? Well, one other candidate, Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen, is also an extremely capable MLA, also a good Parliamentarian and an indefatigable worker. If he wins, it will be by coming from behind, but that could happen, and if something like that did happen, it would sure be exciting.

The big question in this race, which may be answered today, is how badly Notley wants the job. She has been under enormous pressure to run -- pressure of the best kind, from people who respect her and even love her. But if she is at all ambivalent, and it shows, it could give a chance to Eggen, who most assuredly wants the job very much.

Full disclosure: Readers of this blog know that its author is a New Democrat. So I will be able to do something when the NDP leadership vote takes place in October that I won't take the opportunity to do in the Tory leadership election in September -- I'll have a vote.

Naturally, I am leaning toward one of these two candidates, either of whom I am confident could be the leader that once again takes the NDP to official Opposition status in the next general election. But I think I'll just keep which one to myself, if readers don't mind.

It is said here that while several other fine people have pondered running for the leadership, none of them can be taken seriously as candidates because they don't have seats in the Legislature.

Sad to say, this isn’t like the PC Party where some legislative sluggo -- perhaps one who used to be a premier -- can be counted on to step aside to make way for a new leader without a chair in the chamber, with the reasonable assurance the results of the by-election that follows are a foregone conclusion.

It's said here that to be a credible candidate to lead the NDP, you have to be a New Democrat MLA now, and that's a pretty exclusive club -- for the time being at least.

+ + +

Ric McIver’s bizarre parade appearance makes his victory even less likely, could hurt PC Party

Meanwhile, Tory leadership candidate Ric McIver, the horse backed by the social conservative hard right in the less interesting leadership race, was working on the Christian Sabbath yesterday, politicking at the March for Jesus parade in Calgary. Last year he officially opened it.

I mention this Sabbath business only because the Calgary Street Church that puts on the annual Fathers Day event attended by McIver has a high level of hostility about another activity deemed worthy of the death penalty in the Old Testament.

This quote comes directly from the group’s web page: "Last year alone, Calgary's streets were flooded with people of wrong sexual preferences during a homosexual parade of over 30,000 attendees and none of them were embarrassed the slightest to publicly even present their nakedness in front of families and in front of future generations to openly proclaim and manifest that they are not ashamed to declare the name of their master (Satan) and in the same way not concerned with provoking greatly the wrath of the Living God."

Because of constant political advocacy on this topic, the organization lost its charitable status in 2010.

The organization's views seem considerably less forgiving than those of Pastor Allan Hunsperger, the evangelical preacher and 2012 Edmonton candidate whose opinions expressed in a church blog almost singlehandedly sank the Wildrose Party's chances of forming the government in the now-notorious Lake of Fire brouhaha.

One has to wonder how serious a candidate McIver is if he is willing to be publicly associated with a group holding these views, regardless of his personal convictions, whatever they may be. Indeed, surely a strong vote for McIver after this appearance will hurt whatever candidate emerges as the victor in the PC race.

The group is led by Artur Pawlowski, a notorious street preacher in Calgary who has been arrested for breaking city noise bylaws and unauthorized participation in the Stampede Parade, something that is tantamount to sacrilege in Cowtown.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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