Thursday, May 07, 2015

What's impossible in Alberta now?

At his first cabinet meeting Premier Dave Barrett takes off his shoes, leaps onto the leather-inlaid cabinet table and skids the length of the room. “Are we here for a good time or a long time?” he roars. His answer: a good time, a time of change, action, doing what was needed and right, not what was easy and conventional.
I think I'm going to read The Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in Power 1972-75 . The argument of Geoff Meggs and Rod Mickleburgh a couple of years ago was that having turned out an old and decrepit right-wing dynasty in the B.C provincial election of 1972, Dave Barrett concluded that all the other parties in BC would rapidly coalesce under a single flag and put an end to the voting splits that had made possible the BC NDP's shocking majority.

Barrett's political prognostication was dead on. Liberals, Tories, Socreds united and defeated his government out in 1975, even though his popular vote actually went up. It's his strategy that is of interest now. He did not tack to the middle, did not seek compromise or try to win over "centrist" voters or the approval of BC's Very Serious People by adopting middle of the road policies.  He pushed through everything he wanted to do. And,though he went out of power in 1975:
"university or college student graduating today in BC may have been born years after Barrett’s defeat, but could attend a Barrett daycare, live on a farm in Barrett’s Agricultural Land Reserve, be rushed to hospital in a provincial ambulance created by Barrett’s government and attend college in a community institution founded by his government."
To say nothing of public auto insurance, welfare reform, parliamentary accountability, modernized fiscal systems, labour reforms, the Gulf Islands Trust, and (!) the end of corporal punishment in schools.  One new bill passed for every three days his government was in office, it says here. And much of it endures.

What's Rachel Notley saying to her first cabinet meeting:  Try to take charge of the centre and seek re-election by not offending anyone?  Or accept that, no matter what they do, they will be stomped upon by a big blue coalition in 2019, so they should just do what the province urgently needs in the meantime?

Course Barrett had the advantage that BC's finances were in relatively good shape in 1972, so it was possible to actually do things, whereas the Alberta PCs are leaving Notley a trainwreck.

Today Gary Mason says the election proves Alberta has changed, that there is a real progressive consensus behind the NDP victory -- meaning presumably that the NDP, with its 40% support, has the opportunity to become a new dynasty if it only plays its cards right.
The Alberta election crushed what remained of the myth that has persisted about this province: that it is an adamant and unapologetic right-wing outlier that only has eyes for conservative-minded politicians.
I suspect that in 2019 the adamant and unapologetic right wing of Alberta will show itself not to be extinct after all.
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