George Clark

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Don’t you think there’s sort of an unintended compliment to Alberta’s New Democratic Party in George Clark’s announcement Friday he’s asking his supporters to help him hijack the party by signing up 400,000 new members?

Clark was the public face of a Tea-Party-like phenomenon called Alberta First Plebiscite Warriors that promised to overthrow Premier Rachel Notley’s majority government in a peaceful coup d’état. This came to be mockingly known as the #kudatah after a misspelled Tweet by one of his supporters.

Clark’s bizarre claim he could pull off a peaceful political putsch in 15 minutes on the day the Legislature opened if his petitions were not accepted by the government became a tool to fan the rural grassroots reaction against Bill 6, the government’s controversial farm-safety legislation. He proclaimed that if the government refused to accept his notarized petitions, the lieutenant-governor would have no choice but to send it packing.

Until it sank in that Clark’s theories were a major embarrassment, many legitimate conservative politicians in Alberta who must have known better used this group to furiously attack the NDP. It would be interesting to see an accounting of who actually donated money to his effort — he claims to have raised about $20,000 through crowd funding.

The fact Clark’s legal theories were taken seriously by a large number of Albertans and covered enthusiastically by mainstream media must have led many in other parts of the country to conclude we had all taken leave of our senses. Many in the legal profession saw the spoor of the theories of “Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument litigants” influenced by groups that have bedevilled our courts in recent years. If nothing else, his success was a profound condemnation of the civics curriculum in Alberta schools through 80 years of Social Credit and PC rule!

Clark’s change of course suggests that, as angry as some Albertans may be at the New Democrats, even the government’s harshest opponents are coming to see the NDP at least for now as truly the governing party of Alberta, not just as electoral fluke as some right-wing politicians keep insisting.

The similarity between this element’s perception of this government and the last one, by the way, is why the right-wing fruitcake fringe prefers the Wildrose Party to the Progressive Conservatives.

To Clark and his remaining supporters, I expect, there’s not a lot of light between the NDP led by Notley and the Progressive Conservatives she defeated on May 5. The PCs, after all, had already indicated a dangerous inclination (from his perspective) to flirt with progressive rhetoric and drift toward the centre.

The rural right’s conspiracy fantasies about Conservative Ed Stelmach’s Land Assembly Project Area Act sound very much like the same people’s paranoia about the Notley Government’s Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.

Ditto the oil industry’s fury at the suggestion by both Stelmach’s and Notley’s governments that perhaps Albertans weren’t getting their fair share from the province’s resources — and its success quickly cowing both governments into dropping attempts to do something about it for the benefit of Albertans.

Tell me I’m wrong, but this suggests members of the rural Plebiscite Warriors fringe will react the same way to any attempt to moderate or control the farm lobby or the oil industry, even if it’s not in their own interests, regardless of which government attempts it.

Naturally, any government charged with actually running this place has little choice but to approach the nitty-gritty of governance by relying on the established constitutional rules of Western democratic jurisprudence.

In other words, at least here in Alberta we ought to be cautious about looking down our noses at the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz (who, after all, was born in Calgary) and their clamorous supporters. You know … people who live in glass houses and all that.

Even if Clark had 400,000 supporters — and at this point, deprived of the support of the embarrassed mainstream right and the attention of media, it seems more likely he has about a dozen — his latest scheme won’t work.

Just for starters, he seems not to understand the difference in our system of government between the party and its elected legislative caucus. This is not a surprise, really, as he also appears not to have figured out you can’t just waltz up to Buck House in London with a sheaf of petitions in your hand and ring the doorbell for Her Majesty.

He was also unaware, apparently, that under the NDP’s constitution, the party secretary has the right to skid members who don’t adhere to party principles — “assuming anyone actually follows up on Clark’s call to action,” as journalist Paula Simons put it in a thoughtful column on this topic. Last night he appeared to be trying to come up with a revised plan.

That said, Clark’s idea, while unlikely to succeed, is not so different from the strategy used by some groups frequently at loggerheads with PC policy over the years. That is, they ensured they had PC Party activists among their membership who could take part in internal party policy debates.

The Alberta Teachers Association contributed not just party members, but MLAs and cabinet ministers to the PC Government in days of yore. For that, they have been unfairly mocked as the Alberta Tory Association in this space. Other union members have done much the same thing, also with the support of their unions.

You can argue about whether that’s a good idea, but in a place that for 80 years was effectively a one-party state, you can certainly understand the motivation. It made sense to many people who in other provinces would have been Liberals or New Democrats.

Maybe the same instinct is asserting itself on the right.

Or perhaps Clark just realized that if he handed his petitions directly over to the NDP Government, acting party Provincial Secretary Chris O’Halloran would know who the Wildrose Fifth Columnists were before they donated their dollar and tried to make a nuisance of themselves.

Whatever. With Clark deprived of the oxygen of publicity and the advice and donations of his enablers, I doubt we’ll be hearing much more about this nonsense.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog,

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...