Brian Mason

Freshly shorn of his trademark moustache, Alberta New Democratic Party Leader Brian Mason made the implicit explicit yesterday at the party’s 50th annual convention in Edmonton.

To wit: he stated outright what a lot of us have been thinking, that the policies advocated by today’s Alberta New Democrats have more in common with the managerial legacy of Peter Lougheed, who died in Calgary on Thursday at 84, than do those of the Progressive Conservative Party whose ruling dynasty Lougheed founded more than 41 years ago.

Conservatives, naturally, will scoff at this suggestion and accuse Mason of being the leader of a minor party trying to crash the former premier’s funeral cortege. Well, a minor opposition party the NDP still is, but, really, on the record, the logic of the rest of his case is pretty hard to assail.

Lougheed was a manager who raised petroleum royalties in Alberta to 40 per cent from the pathetic 17 per cent charged under the Social Credit government of Premier Ernest Manning. Today, after the succession of PC mismanagers that followed Lougheed into the premier’s office, Alberta royalties have been ratcheted down to 15 per cent, Mason said.

Citing the points Lougheed prescribed for sound management of the province’s rich natural resources, Mason concluded that “it is the NDP that is carrying on Peter Lougheed’s legacy and not the Progressive Conservatives in this province.”

Take Lougheed’s oft-made pronouncement Alberta’s government should “act like an owner” to manage the province’s resources. The numbers, he said, illustrate how premiers Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford have shortchanged future generations of Albertans. “That is billions of dollars that are being stolen from future generations in this province by a government that is in the pockets of foreign oil corporations.”

Of Lougheed’s call for Alberta’s resources to be developed with care and planning, Mason said: “The principles of planning have been abandoned by his party.” Of his call to add value here in Alberta: The PCs “are letting the oil industry write its own ticket and those jobs are going down the pipeline just as surely as the unprocessed bitumen.”

Mason didn’t mention the Wildrose Party — understandably enough, given the nature of the occasion — but it’s worth mentioning here that the province’s largest Opposition party would likely take corporate taxes and resource royalties even lower, exacerbating the artificial deficit crisis already created by the PCs.

There was far more tax fairness in Lougheed’s day, Mason observed, before business taxes were slashed, royalties rolled back and a flat-tax implemented that gave bit tax breaks to the wealthy and left the rest of us holding the bag.

Mason reminded his listeners that “when you attack teachers, you attack kids; when you attack nurses, you attack patients; when you attack long-term care, you attack seniors. We can’t permit deficits created by tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations to be paid for by the middle classes.”

Mason told his (obviously sympathetic) listeners of the great pride he felt at his role in defeating premier Klein’s “Third Way” health care policy, which, he asserted, was nothing more than an effort to bring in private health care by stealth. This is a plan, he warned, that despite new rhetoric is not much changed under the Redford Government.

“Alison will show her true colours before too long,” he predicted. “She may try to embrace the Lougheed legacy and lay claim to it, but in actual fact she is very different and shows no inclination to go back to that progressive vision. That leaves it up to the New Democrats.”

OK, this stuff is all well and good, but even with the opportunity to ride the Orange Wave generated by the federal NDP, Alberta New Democrats are still members of a boutique party in a province where the main opposition is even farther to the right than the government and the progressive vote is split at least between the NDP and the Alberta Liberals, and last time was shared with the Alberta Party to boot.

Mason’s prescription for changing the party from a phone booth to a big tent — in other words, reaching out other progressive voters who may have concluded that is where the future lies — is obviously needed.

Accordingly, earlier yesterday, convention delegates voted to give each party member a vote in future leadership contests, abandoning the old system of having elected convention delegates (who tend to be party insiders) choose the leader.

But if the Alberta NDP is going to succeed at broadening its base, it’s going to have to prove they can run a party meeting with more precision than a church supper — and get, for example, the evening’s main speaker to the podium in time to make the evening TV news.

Last night the time crunch left federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair scrambling with that deadline no doubt in mind to make similar points to Mason’s, packaged for a national audience.

Mulcair wondered why the Conservative governments of Alison Redford and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are so determined to ship Alberta bitumen as fast as possible to the Texas Gulf and Communist China, where they’ll likely further depress the price Alberta’s resources can fetch, instead of adding value and creating jobs here in Canada.

“Your premier has said we need a national conversation about our natural resources. And you know what? I agree with her.” But instead, the Redford and Harper Conservatives seem determined to sell Canadian bitumen to a Chinese company that is nothing but an arm of the Chinese government “without even having a national debate. We’re calling for a national debate.”

As for Harper’s unrelenting attacks on environmental regulation and sustainable development — leaving the costs of his recklessness to the future — not to mention his tactic of just making stuff up to attack the opposition, Mulcair responded, “we’re in favour of a more prosperous Canada, but a Canada that’s more prosperous for everyone.”

He asked: “How is it that the Conservatives, who tend to talk that game, are living off the credit card of a future generation?”

In other words, he agreed with Mason, it’s time for Albertans and Canadians to do what Lougheed advised, and act like the owners of their resources.

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

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...