There may have been better Canadian political stump speeches than the one Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley delivered in Edmonton yesterday afternoon at the end of this often surprising 2015 campaign, but I’ve never heard it — and I’ve heard plenty.
We may not yet know what will happen on Tuesday, but it’s a remarkable turn of events when a New Democratic Party leader can pack 1,500 or more people into a hotel ballroom in the capital city of Alberta on a rainy Sunday afternoon and get them to cheer themselves hoarse with an electrifying speech that’s both inspiring and coherent, and reasonable to boot.
It would be fair to say almost no one expected anything like this when Premier Jim Prentice arrogantly called this election, which was wanted by no one but his Progressive Conservative Party strategic brain trust, and set off on what he imagined would be an easy stroll to victory.
As the campaign progressed, with the PCs sinking to third place according to the pollsters, a whiff of panicky desperation began to emanate from the Tory war room. Their answer was the 2015 Campaign of Fear. Yesterday, while Notley was uplifting her supporters with her charismatic performance, Prentice was grimly warning voters that now, after only 44 years, was no time to start changing governments.
Sure, he seemed to be saying, we’ve had a chaotic succession of bumbling PC premiers, but we can trust him, ’cause this time’s the charm! And apparently, if the polls can be believed, I’m not the only Albertan to whom this sounds lame and preposterous.
As Notley put it, Albertans “are not that impressed with the circus the PCs have made of Alberta’s government since the last election either. Four premiers in four years, my friends. A never-ending circus instead of a government that has continued right through this election campaign….If you can’t govern yourself, you certainly cannot govern this province!”
And surely those five well-off and well-connected Tory businessmen who called a news conference on Friday to scold Albertans about the need to stop the crazy talk about changing governments didn’t intend to hand Notley her best lines of the campaign?
That’s the way it’s played out, though, and the huge throng of Dippers at the somewhat grubby Ramada Edmonton Hotel and Conference Centre not so many blocks north of the Legislature gave Notley the perfect way to illustrate what for many Albertans has become the pivotal question of this election.
Here we had five impeccably tailored men who together have donated close to $100,000 to the PC Party in the past five years and whose companies the media says have received millions in contracts from the same government, sitting at a giant boardroom table lecturing Albertans on the need to straighten up and fly right, and I do mean right.
There it was encapsulated: Tory entitlement and self interest rolled into a handy dandy one-act morality play. Could you imagine a better way to make the NDP’s case that all corporate and union donations must end?
“Right here in this city on Friday, the PC party made their final throw, their case to Albertans, their big closing message to the people of Alberta,” Notley told the crowd. “It was delivered by five Conservative businessmen, all of them PC donors, including the former co-chair of the Conservative campaign and a vice-president of the PC Party.
“They lined up in front of the media in a luxury penthouse boardroom, in a tower not too far from here, and they asked: ‘Why? Why should we have to pay anything?’
“So let me just respond,” she said to the repeated cheers of the multitude. “Here’s why: By asking those who can afford it to contribute just a little more — 12,000 children will have a teacher when they show up for school.
“By asking them to contribute just a little bit more we’ll be able to start reducing wait times in our hospitals, and our clinics, and care for our seniors, and ensure that health care is better in communities across Alberta.
“But if they don’t contribute that little bit more, then ordinary working Albertans will have to make up the difference — which is why Albertans are rejecting your budget, Mr. Prentice.
“If Albertans vote for change on Tuesday, and we make better changes, then we’ll live in a better province. A province that looks after its children better, a province that cares for the sick better, a province that’s a better place to live for all of us — including you, my PC friends.
“And that’s why you and other profitable large businesses should contribute just a little bit more!”
“Reject the politics of fear,” Notley urged her listeners. “And in doing that I ask Albertans to say, no thanks for your billion-dollar cutback to health care. No thanks to your cutbacks in our school boards and our schools. And no thanks for your Big Idea: That corporations can’t afford to contribute one single dollar more.”
“Jim Prentice said Alberta is not an NDP province. He’s right because Alberta doesn’t belong to any political party. Alberta is not a PC province. It’s not a Wildrose province. Alberta belongs to Albertans.
“And Albertans — Albertans! — are going to decide who the government is. Not Jim Prentice. And not his five friends.”
Now, if you’re like me, and you’ve been lamenting the decline in the quality of political speech making in this country, regardless of your politics, I recommend you listen to Notley’s entire speech. If nothing else, it will reassure you that great political speechmaking still thrives in Canada.
And if you’re not a New Democrat, maybe it’ll persuade you just the same that, in Notley’s words, “we do not have to repeat history in this province. In two days we can make history!”
This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.