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Is Alberta ready for democracy?

Notwithstanding the unexpected election of a New Democratic Party majority government in Alberta last May 5, it’s pretty obvious a lot of Albertans — especially the business crowd in Calgary — still don’t really get this democracy thing.

Consider the stunned reaction Friday from the Calgary Chamber of Commerce to the shocking revelation by NDP Premier Rachel Notley — leader of the Alberta NDP, raised by committed NDP parents and well known for her NDP convictions — that she intends to vote … just wait for it … for the NDP in the Oct. 19 federal election. Shock! Horror! Bewilderment!

This was so astonishing, indeed, that mainstream media informs us the 1,600 gathered Calgary businessmen, and you can be pretty sure they were mostly men, sat in stunned and bitter silence as their orange sorbets melted before their tear-filled eyes. (I made up the bit about the orange sorbets and the tears, but you get the idea. Anyway, as we’ll see in the moment, just making up completely ridiculous stuff is now totally respectable in Alberta political discourse.)

“I can’t believe how quiet everyone is,” Notley told the burghers of Cowtown after pulling back the orange curtain on her true beliefs, no doubt with a small, sly smile.

This was pretty brave. If I’d been there wearing the premier’s orange shoes, in addition to being a little wobbly on the heels I would have been afraid this was the classic moment of silence before the howling mob stormed the podium and burnt the hotel to its foundations.

Graham Thomson, political columnist for the Edmonton Journal and generally a pretty sensible guy, interpreted Notley’s astonishingly astonishing proclamation that “I was literally born into the NDP, and I believe its principles and values are what the country needs now as are the grit, determination and intellect of Tom Mulcair,” as the equivalent of “poking them with a stick.”

Seriously? Well, yes. … Apparently seriously.

What next, one wonders? Horror in the streets when Kathleen Wynne reveals, even worse, she’s a Liberal? Probably not, actually. That’s the sort of thing you’re always hearing from Toronto, and it doesn’t surprise anyone because, what do you expect from a dissolute place like that?

Nowadays it’s not uncommon in these parts to hear people wonder “what right” the NDP had to impose policies the business community doesn’t like, such as raising the minimum wage by $1 an hour. If you suggest to them that’s how democracy works — you know, you campaign on a set of policies, and, when you get elected, you get to implement them, and if you don’t your supporters will be disappointed and quit voting for you — you’ll be met with blank stares like those that greeted Premier Notley at the Calgary Chamber.

Which brings us to the topic of Derek Fildebrandt, the Wildrose Opposition’s finance critic, who has a theory about this kind of thing.

Fildebrandt’s epiphany — which is apparently taken seriously by the entire mainstream media, including the ones from Toronto who ought to know better — is that the NDP are lying bastards because they keep their promises!

The Globe and Mail featured Fildebrandt’s excited realization prominently in its print edition Friday under what surely has to be one of the standout headlines of the decade, if not the century: “NDP duped voters by implementing its promises, Wildrose finance critic says.”

Je digresse, but it needs to be noted that Globe and Mail copy editors sometimes write headlines that subtly reveal their own, usually uncomplimentary, perspective on the reporter’s commentary and the interviewee’s point of view. It is a Globe tradition that, I confess, I participated in when I was a headline writer for that august publication. But while I think my dry explanation a racing sailboat called French Kiss had a tongue-in-cheek name was pretty clever, the headline about Fildebrandt’s ejaculation raises the bar to a whole new level!

Now, in any other democratic jurisdiction, such an idea would surely have been greeted with mild amusement, or perhaps outright guffaws. Not here in Alberta.

The author of the Globe’s account breathlessly explained Fildebrandt’s explication thusly: “Alberta’s ruling New Democratic Party hoodwinked voters into believing it would lean only slightly left and is now implementing ‘hard-core ideological’ policies.” …

“The NDP platform was never intended to ever be implemented,” Fildebrandt explained to credulous journalists outside the ballroom where the premier had just spoken. It was, he asserted, “a hard-core ideological document” designed to push the then-ruling Progressive Conservative Party led by the hapless Jim Prentice “in a particular direction,” by which Fildebrandt presumably means a teeny-weenie bit to the left.

“It was never actually meant to be implemented as real policy,” he averred.

This is baloney on all counts, pretty obviously, as a cursory glance through the NDP election platform will reveal to any reader. Unless, I suppose, you imagine such policies as gradually diversifying the economy to reduce reliance on a single industry, honouring your word, making modest moves in the direction of fairer taxation, telling the truth, protecting the public health care system, trying to protect the environment while doing business, keeping your promises, and making modest progressive increases to the minimum wage add up to “hard core ideological” radicalism.

Well, that is what Mr. Fildebrandt believes, or so says he says.

Certainly, it was obvious to Alberta voters — whom Fildebrandt and his party obviously think are quite stupid — that the NDP intended to implement this cautious and quite conservative program if elected.

Moreover, subsequent polling has indicated the steps taken by the NDP to implement an insignificant 2 per cent increase in the taxes paid by big corporations and to review natural resource royalties continue to be quite popular with voters.

Now, the natural assumption of an observer from a normal democracy might be that Fildebrandt wears a tinfoil hat when he goes to bed to prevent Dipper-Rays from penetrating his skull. But this would be a mistake. He is a quite a bright young man, long associated with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a well-known anti-union pro-big-business lobby group distinguished by its misleading propaganda and relentless media stunts.

The strategy of the Wildrose Party under Leader Brian Jean, devised by clever advisors formerly associated with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, has been to paint the NDP from Day 1 as extremist lunatics bent on destroying Civilization As We Know It (CAWKI).

In this they are enthusiastically amplified by the mainstream media echo chamber and repeated constantly by loony conspiracy theorists on the lecture circuit, such as Ezra Levant, another natural candidate for the leadership of the Tinfoil Hat Club. And so it shall be without remit for the next three and a half years.

Surely in any other jurisdiction, though, Fildebrandt’s theorizing that the NDP are liars because they’re telling the truth would be ignored by the media as unworthy of ink and and laughed out of the court of public opinion.

Not here, at least as far as the media goes This is especially true in the Calgary and Edmonton newspapers, which are all now owned by the same partisan Toronto-based corporation, which shares essentially the same worldview as the CTF and the CFIB. As for what the public makes of this, the jury remains out.

Still, this does raise the question asked at the start of this post: Is Alberta ready for democracy?

If this kind of nonsense is taken seriously, perhaps not. Remember, Russia (as we are constantly reminded) has had some difficulty adjusting to democracy in the post-Soviet era, and the Soviet Union lasted a mere 69 years.

Here in Alberta, we had one-party rule for 80 years under the same party with two names — Social Credit from 1935 to 1971 and Progressive Conservative from 1971 to 2015. So it would not be surprising if Alberta had some rocky moments as well on the way to figuring out how democracy works.

Nor should it surprise us the Wildrose Party — which is really just the Social Credit-PC Coalition under yet another name — would long for the days when it made sense in Alberta not to make any sense.

The message from the Fildebrandt-Jean Angry Team seems to be that voters are idiots for not choosing their party, and that if we do at some point in the future, we can be confident they’ll lie to us about whatever they plan to do.

I can remember a day when the Wildrose Party, led by Danielle Smith, valued the idea of keeping promises. Obviously no more.

Apparently this Orwellian message has found a happy home at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog,

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David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...