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Eight months of the NDP in review: Main themes pretty much as predicted on Day 2

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Rachel Notley

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There is no war on Christmas, but the Organized Right's war on the Alberta NDP proceeds apace.

On May 5, 2015 -- to the astonishment of most, the great joy of many and the deep consternation of a group of powerful people who had imagined they had fixed things so they were immune forever from the setbacks inherent to a true democracy -- the 44-year-old Tory Dynasty collapsed and Rachel Notley's New Democrats filled the gap.

On May 7, I wrote in this space that for the Notley Government the hard part was yet to come. I made three predictions:

  1. That training and managing an inexperienced caucus would be difficult, but since the people who made it up were bright, young and energetic they would mostly do well. So far this has turned out to be correct.
  2. That forming a cabinet that wouldn't mess up would be harder, indeed, monumentally difficult, but while some disasters were inevitable, it was an achievable task. Ditto, notwithstanding the recent brouhaha over farm safety laws.
  3. That the market-fundamentalist claque that has had its way with Canada for 30 years and Alberta for nearly 80 -- including its corporate financiers, think-tank auxiliary and legislative and media arms -- would shake off the shock of having been defeated at what it thought was a deadbolt cinch and declare open, unremitting war on the NDP government of Alberta. It is said here that this third point has come true in spades.

As noted on May 7, distinguished journalist, academic and lifelong CCF-NDP political activist Gerald Caplan's description of what happened to Bob Rae's NDP government when it was elected with a similar degree of surprise in Ontario in 1990 remains an instructive, practical guide to what is happening now in Alberta.

"Within months," Caplan wrote, "Rae's government faced an unrelenting, brutal four-year onslaught that was unprecedented in Canadian history." His 2010 column in the Globe and Mail went on:

"It is no exaggeration to say hysterical fear-mongering and sabotage was the order of the day. Launched within the very first year of the new government, the attackers included every manner of business big and small, both Canadian and American-owned, almost all private media, the police (especially in Toronto), landlords and lobbying/government relations firms. Their goal was clear, and they had the money and power to achieve it.

"They were determined to undermine the government every step of the way, to frustrate the implementation of its plans and to assure its ultimate defeat. In all three goals they were successful. The considerable achievements of the government -- often forgotten or dismissed -- were wrought in the face of a deep recession and ferocious obstruction."

Instructively, Caplan recalled: "After the new finance minister’s very first meeting with the banking community, a bank vice-president told him, in the presence of an aide: 'Nice speech, Mr. Minister, but we're going to kill you.'"

At least this much has changed: the financiers of the market fundamentalist creed would be unlikely to speak such truths aloud today. They would leave such commentary to the private gatherings of their sprawl cabals and bun fest fundraisers where the only chance for it to come to light would be offered by a sympathetic waiter with a discreet digital recorder.

Despite the fact the Soviet Union was imploding at the time, Caplan remembered, right-wing columnists of the day "actually resorted to old-fashioned red-baiting, smearing the government as 'red' or 'communist.'"

That these attacks hurt the economy of Ontario as well as the NDP mattered not to the militant neoliberal right. The goal was the destruction of Ontario's modern experiment with social democracy, driven by the right's vicious and irrational hatred of the Rae Government.

The recent death of Bill Bennett, the Social Credit premier of British Columbia who replaced New Democrat Dave Barrett as one-term premier of that province, reminds us that, Caplan's memory notwithstanding, the frenzied assault on the NDP experienced by Rae was not really unprecedented.

Well, it has all come true.

The Soviet Union may be long gone, but here in Alberta the Red-baiting resumed at once, and has never slackened.

Economic sabotage by corporations hoping to create the conditions that will see the Notley Government swept away has certainly impacted the provincial employment rate. And while the NDP cannot be excused for fumbling the introduction of its farm-safety law, the extremist rhetoric and outright lies of the Wildrose Party, not to mention the obscenity and sexualized death threats of its supporters, have been astonishing even to those of us who anticipated the worst.

"The real danger to Alberta," Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid warned back in May, is "loose talk from the conservative side about the NDP inevitably bringing economic doom. Such prophecies can be self-fulfilling."

That, of course, is the whole idea. Braid's implicit criticism of such fear mongering was based on the naïve assumption the deep-pocketed, determined promoters of these strategies don’t actually intend to do harm.

Well, we're in the thick of it now. There is no difference at all from the attacks against Barrett's government, or those against Rae's, except that thanks to the rise of social media their ferocity and ugliness are right out there for all to see.

A factor in this, of course, may be that 2015 really hasn't been a very good year for neoliberal extremists here in Canada. Indeed, I don't know about you, but with nine days left, I can't recall a year that I've enjoyed as much from a political perspective.

Not only was the 44-year Progressive Conservative Party dynasty unexpectedly but deservedly swept away, so was the odious Harper Government in Ottawa, and in an equally entertaining fashion. Voters in Alberta also had the good sense to keep the Wildrose Party and its more extreme version of market-fundamentalism out of power.

Many of us had come to believe the conservatives’ propaganda about the invincibility of their political calculations and ruthlessness, and their indomitable and inimitable grasp of Big Data. They obviously believed it themselves.

So how refreshing to see two of their most important governments go down, one after the other, at once the victims of their own hubris and voters' desire for real democracy.

Under the circumstances, one can almost empathize, if not quite sympathize, with the right's uncontrollable fury at this turn of events. Notley Derangement Syndrome, compounded by Trudeau Derangement Syndrome, is upon us with a vengeance.

Let us only hope that for out-of-the-blue NDP victories, three times is the charm, and the Notley Government learns from their opponents' sordid history to stick to its principles and not betray the constituencies that moved to support the party as soon as Notley demonstrated the party's credibility.

And in this festive season, let us celebrate a wonderful year past … and keep our powder dry for a year ahead that, if nothing else, is bound to be interesting.

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

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