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Rachel Notley showed the NDPers gathered in Edmonton, and those watching from afar, how she got to be Alberta's first NDP premier.
She gave a speech that, while not flawless -- she stumbled a few times -- was full of conviction, passion and factual details.
She attacked her opponents on the right for their mean-spirited policies, vaunted her own young government's achievements, especially in getting rid of the flat tax and demonstrating leadership on climate change, and was candid about the challenge of governing Alberta in a time of deeply declining oil and gas revenues.
Beyond the arguments and rhetoric, however, what Notley projected, most of all, was the rare political quality of seeming to be entirely genuine and without the slightest hint of guile.
Like all politicians, Alberta's premier has plenty of rehearsed lines. But when Notley utters those lines her listeners can feel she is speaking them for the first time, naturally, and with full candour.
The Alberta NDP leader has the uncanny ability to pierce the partisan political ether and communicate directly with her listeners.
Defended the interests of Alberta and its energy sector
Now, Notley's very niceness, her preternatural naturalness and air of sincerity, might have masked the fact that she took a pretty hard line with the good many folks in the room who came to Edmonton to push for the LEAP manifesto.
She did not have to use the word "manifesto" in a pejorative way, in contrast to actually getting things done -- but she did.
She did not have to nearly scold the delegates with the observation that defeat can sometimes bring in its wake a tendency to retreat behind "slogans and dreams" -- but she did.
She could have avoided reiterating what she told her own province this past Thursday about the need for at least one pipeline to get Alberta tar sands bitumen to tidewater -- but repeat it she did, in no uncertain terms.
She was blunt about the economic agony her province is suffering, and equally blunt when she insisted she is a "traditional New Democrat" who cares about working people -- including those who work in the energy sector.
The Alberta premier did say her government is working, long term, to transition to a more divserified and greener economy, much less based on fossil fuels.
But she made clear she believes such a transition to be a long-term goal, not a nearly immediate objective, which is what the LEAP manifesto proposes.
Notley has dropped the gauntlet -- what will the party do now?
And so, Notley said some things that are not popular with NDP delegates looking for a radical, green turn in party policy.
Some, it seems, even booed parts of her speech.
Her reception was, however, mostly very warm -- especially from federal leader Tom Mulcair.
After Notley's speech, a few commentators tried to square the circle and say she was not actually slamming the LEAP manifesto, merely inviting a thorough discussion of it.
That is not what this writer heard.
It was hard, in fact, to see and hear anything other than Alberta's first NDP premier throwing down the gauntlet, and candidly telling the party:
Do not give our opponents on the right, especially in Alberta, the weapons to portray us as the anti-energy (and ergo anti-Alberta) party.
We've worked too long and hard to get here, she, in effect, said, to be blindsided by folk who are too enamoured of those comforting "slogans and dreams."
She even evoked the party's greatest saint, long serving Saskatchewan premier and first NDP leader, Tommy Douglas.
Douglas was not one for unrealistic goals, she told her NDP colleagues. He was a practical leader and he was for more than talk. He was for real results, and to achieve those, Notley said, Douglas knew he needed to win and keep power.
Notley's words were honest and bracing, as much as they were inspiring, and they reflected a real difference of view at this convention that cannot be papered over with calming words.
The rest of the convention will tell how this fundamental disagreement plays itself out.
Photo: flickr/ Premier of Alberta
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