Just one month ago, a group of community organizers with Climate Justice Edmonton piled into a pub on Whyte Avenue to commiserate as the provincial election results rolled in.
For many of us, it was a sombre occasion — even though we had anticipated the results, it didn’t hurt less to see a far-right, pro-austerity party with white supremacist and homophobic sentiments expressed among its ranks easily sweep the polls in nearly every riding across the province. After four years of tepid progressive leadership, Alberta had rebounded hard to our conservative roots.
In the short weeks that have passed, our new premier has already proven himself to be as nefarious and short-sighted as anticipated. He’s appointed a former Enbridge executive and senior director of the notorious industry lobby group, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA), as Minister of Energy; has scrapped the NDP’s plan for the much-needed Bighorn provincial park; and has once again, reaffirmed his commitment to launching “a public inquiry into the foreign source of funds behind the campaign to landlock Alberta energy.” Only days ago, Kenney announced his “Blue Ribbon Panel” — a group tasked with determining how to eliminate the province’s debt without introducing any new taxes or raising existing ones.
This headstart on his “Summer of Repeal” portends his commitment to other terrifying actions he’s promised to take — from repealing overtime pay and outing gay kids in schools, to tying funding for Indigenous nations to their stance on energy projects. In short, we’re looking ahead to governance that will lead to wide-ranging social harms.
While there are a variety of takes on why the NDP lost — ranging from “pipeline problems” to calling the election too soon — few of the theories get at the crux of what went wrong or sincerely articulate what could have been.
Admittedly, it was always going to be an uphill battle for Notley. But instead of presenting a bold vision for the future of the province and pointing to her government’s noted successes — from building new schools and expanding access to post-secondary education to significantly increasing the provincial minimum wage — she wasted much of the NDP’s precious airtime desperately trying to convince Albertans that she could “out-pipeline” Jason Kenney, with practically every Labour leader and MLA following suit.
It was a losing strategy straight out of the gate. As our friends at the Alberta Advantage so brilliantly put it, “Rachel Notley could’ve driven a tank over protestors on Burnaby Mountain and these people [Conservative voters] still would not have thought she liked pipelines as much as Jason Kenney.”
But every time left-leaning Albertans like us tried to voice this concern, we were called unreasonable and out of touch by members of the party establishment. “Kenney will be worse” became the constant refrain of the past six months, followed by a risk that he posed, whether emboldening anti-choice advocates or embracing private healthcare.
And certainly, Kenney is worse — far worse — for everyone. Yet he was elected. Why? Because, unlike Rachel Notley, he actually offered a vision to Albertans: one of prosperity and a return to better times. Regardless of whether or not this vision was built on lies and faulty assumptions (spoiler: it was!), it goes to show that what’s needed now more than ever is a vision for the future that speaks to working people’s economic anxieties.
Just before the election, members of Climate Justice Edmonton gathered in downtown Ottawa the day the Yellow Vest convoy rolled through the city. That afternoon, we spoke to dozens of Kenney supporters about why they were there. They told us they were anxious about the future, worried about their ability to support their families, and angry that political elites in this country were passing millions amongst themselves while leaving the rest of us behind.
These weren’t unfamiliar grievances. As a generation of organizers growing up in the climate crisis, we’ve also become familiar with uncertainty and anxiety about what our future might look like and how we’ll navigate it with dignity.
But there is a difference between us. While those donning yellow vests are reaching for all the wrong solutions — building pipelines, eviscerating the carbon tax, shutting down our borders — we’re forwarding a bold vision for what the future could look like: Indigenous rights being upheld, guaranteed good work for every person, and racial justice and migrant justice as the foundation of our communities.
In the lead up to the federal election, we’re building the vision we wish we could have voted for a month ago: a vision that finally meets the scale of the crises we face. Because it’s clear that the rise of white supremacy, growing income inequality, and the deepening climate crisis will not be resolved without visionary politics and a ground game to support it.
And that’s why, on election night, instead of sitting and mourning with our pints of beer, Climate Justice Edmonton organizers ran around collecting names and emails from other despondent faces around the bar. Because we knew that with anger and fear comes a spark of hope that things could look different — and more than that: the resolve to make it happen. It’s why, just one week after the election, Climate Justice Edmonton’s list of young volunteers willing to throw their weight behind a Green New Deal for Canada with the Our Time movement had grown to over 120 people. It’s why hundreds of people from across the country have donated more than $15,000 to fund Climate Justice Edmonton’s “war room to beat Kenney’s war room.” And it’s why, week after week, our meetings have been overflowing with new organizers committed to building power behind this vision.
Because as young people living in Alberta, we know what it feels like to be forced to cast a ballot for an unlivable future. And we refuse to do it again.
Paige Gorsak and Emma Jackson are co-founders and organizers with Climate Justice Edmonton. Based in Treaty 6 territory, the pair met at a teach-in on ending white supremacy and solidified their friendship running an electoral campaign grounded in social and environmental justice. Now, they’re helping lay the foundation for a Green New Deal for Canada with the youth-led Our Time campaign. Paige is a public library worker and Emma is a field organizer with 350 Canada.
Image: Climate Justice Edmonton/Facebook
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