NDP Leader Jack Layton in Edmonton last night

Let’s go with the mainstream media’s cautious numbers: more than 1,000 optimistic New Democrats packed the historic Blatchford Hangar at Fort Edmonton Park tonight to welcome NDP Leader Jack Layton back to Alberta’s capital city where he started his campaign a scant 32 days ago.

It looked like twice as many to me, but, what the hey, crowds are notoriously hard to judge from the centre.

Is there an Orange Wave, even here in Conservative Alberta? It sure as heck looked like it, sounded like it last night. I had a moment when I thought a balcony laden with precious orange-wrapped NDP voters might come crashing to the floor, but it held, praise be, as the building literally shook with stomps and chants of N-D-P! N-D-P! N-D-P!

The guy beside me looked familiar: Oh yeah, he used to be a Red Tory who contested the Conservative nomination in the federal riding I live in. Maybe he was just spectating, but he looked as happy to be there as I was, and none of Layton’s RCMP guards offered to give him the bum’s rush.

But then, that sort of thing isn’t done at NDP rallies — which may just have something to do with why the NDP is doing so well right now.

Anyway, while there were a lot of familiar faces in the very big crowd, there were an awful lot of new faces too, many of them atop bodies clutching signs that said, “We can do this.” This was one NDP meeting that didn’t feel a bit like going to church.

Layton looked quintessentially Canadian in his grey Charlie Farquharson sweater while the crowd treated him like a rock star.

In his speech, Layton quite properly ignored the more idiotic charges being bandied about by hysterical Alberta Conservatives these days — you know, like how the success of the NDP means the end of the world, or at least civilization as we know it, and certainly every last job in the oilpatch.

So far, no one from the Alberta chapter of the Conservative Party has demanded that Layton produce his birth certificate, but one can’t shake the feeling that this kind of thing is right around the corner.

Instead, as a candidate should at this point in the campaign, Layton just got on with pumping up the troops for the final push, especially in Edmonton-Strathcona, held by MP Linda Duncan, and in Edmonton-Centre and Edmonton-East where New Democrat candidates Lewis Cardinal and Ray Martin respectively have a fighting chance of riding the Orange Wave to Ottawa.

This prompted a reflexive snarl from the drafty Conservative tent over in Strathcona, where a spokesperson for the Tory candidate, whose name escapes me at the moment, denied there’s any evidence of an Orange Tide and repeated the standard Tory talking point about the need to keep on attacking the NDP for its energy policies.

Of course, it’s not really NDP energy policies the Conservatives and their hyperventilating stenographers in the tamer corners of the Alberta media are attacking, but a fictitious caricature of the New Democrats’ environmentally responsible approach to developing the oil sands.

The NDP approach makes for an interesting contrast to that taken by all three Alberta branches of the Maple Tea Party — Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s, Premier Ed Stelmach’s and Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith’s — which is essentially to kill the goose as quickly as possible to get at all those eggs. In this scheme, Canadians make some money loading up the boxcars to ship the gold to the United States.

What the NDP is proposing, by contrast, is to develop the oil sands in a way that ensures long-term prosperity and continued employment for Canadian working people — not just oil company executives in office towers in Texas.

So instead of hosing away taxpayers’ money on public relations sales pitches and unconvincing billboard denials around the world, the NDP proposes to develop the Athabasca oil sands resource in a sustainable way that provides clear evidence to buyers in Europe and the United States that Canadians are not environmental lunatics.

This will create more jobs, not fewer, as the Conservatives … well, let’s just say, as they “claim.”

Moreover, instead of shipping bitumen — and Alberta jobs — down the pipeline to the United States, the NDP would encourage more bitumen to be processed in Alberta by Albertans. This would create well-paying stable jobs in Alberta and enhance our economy.

The Conservatives know all this. But Harper’s party is all about short-term favours for their corporate pals in the United States, and long-term pain for the rest of us.

That’s why, from Alberta’s perspective, it’s never been more important than next Monday to elect New Democrats like Linda Duncan, Lewis Cardinal and Ray Martin … and Jack Layton.

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...