Alberta election helps heals pain from wounds inflicted by Ralph Klein, Preston Manning, and Stephen Harper

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      There are some deeper reasons why the election of an NDP government in Alberta has brought such joy to progressives across Canada.

      It goes beyond the obvious popularity of the premier-designate, Rachel Notley.

      When members of the federal NDP MPs sang "Four Strong Winds" at yesterday's caucus meeting, it was almost like a welcoming of Alberta back into the national fold.

      Ever since Ralph Klein was elected premier in 1992, it's as if Alberta has been Canada's prodigal son.

      It's gone wayward on the country, squandering its energy inheritance and behaving like a political bad boy.

      In the eyes of progressives, there's a national healing taking place now that its voters have thrown the right wingers out of office.

      That's not to deny that Alberta has produced some giants on the national stage. Long-time Calgary-area MP Joe Clark was an honest prime minister and a competent external affairs minister. Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has impressed observers of municipal politics with his optimism, sense of fair play, and ability to lead his city through a crisis. Former premier Peter Lougheed remains widely respected across the country.

      Calgary has also produced journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk, who has done a fine job educating Canadians about important environmental issues. And Edmonton has always been a bastion of culture.

      Writer Andrew Nikiforuk has educated Canadians about the danger of an Alberta petrostate.

      But Alberta has also been a Canadian hothouse for right-wing ideology. Under Klein's leadership, its health-privatization initiatives and its efforts to undermine school boards put the province at odds with progressives across Canada.

      It was an appalling moment in Canadian political history when Klein gave welfare recipients one-way bus passes to B.C. in the 1990s. His flat tax was an abomination that was even recognized by his daughter in the recent campaign. 

      Alberta has also elected politicians such as Stephen Harper, Preston Manning, and Jason Kenney, who've fundamentally changed the country by promoting a market-based mentality where the individual is king and collective efforts are diminished.

      This was covered most eloquently in Donald Gutstein's 2014 book, Harperism: How Stephen Harper and His Think Tank Colleagues Have Transformed Canada.

      The Reform Party, which was first led by Manning, initially supported banning turbans in the RCMP. This spoke loudly about its mindset.

      Calgarians have repeatedly elected one of the early Reformers, Rob Anders, in landslide after landslide. This is notwithstanding his extreme right-wing views, which included voting against giving honorary citizenship to Nelson Mandela. No wonder the Broadbent Institute named him as Canada's worst MP.

      Academics set the tone

      University of Calgary academics like Tom Flanagan, Barry Cooper, Rainer Knopff, and Ted Morton have played key roles in shaping the thinking of Harper and pushing the national pendulum to the right.

      Flanagan emboldened the Conservatives to adopt radically individualistic approaches in dealing with First Nations. One of Harper's first acts after becoming prime minister was to kibosh the Kelowna accord, which went against the grain of this ideology.

      Cooper was a leader in trying to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change. We all know the Harper government's record on this file.

      Knopff and Morton condemned the Supreme Court of Canada for making progressive decisions in extending human rights to the LGBT community and others.

      Is it any wonder that Harper has done end runs around Supreme Court of Canada rulings with legislation dealing with supervised-injection sites, the sex trade, and the environment?

      Another University of Calgary academic, David Bercuson, has relentlessly celebrated Canada's military history. This has also been embraced by Harper, who has become one of the more bellicose leaders in the NATO alliance.

      These academics have also influenced right-wing journalists working for national newspapers. Canada is no longer seen as a peacekeeping nation. We've become an international pariah on climate change. This doesn't seem to be a problem for the Terence Corcorans, Christie Blatchfords, Margaret Wentes, and Ken Whytes of the world.

      Tom Flanagan used to be Stephen Harper's chief of staff.

      Then there was the infamous "firewall letter", signed by Harper, Flanagan, Morton, Knopff, Canadian Taxpayers Federation chairman Andrew Crooks, and Ken Boessenkool, a former adviser to Stockwell Day and B.C. premier Christy Clark. It called on then-premier Klein to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and to fight Ottawa's influence over health care in the courts.

      Alberta also gave us Ezra Levant, an influential right-wing lawyer and author who has tried to change the debate over the tar sands. He did this by coining the term "ethical oil" and vigorously defending the fracking of natural gas. Levant seems to get his jollies vilifying activists who are trying to wean society off fossil fuels.

      Ezrea Levant's attacks on environmentalists have troubled many progressives.

      Rona Ambrose, the health minister, is another Albertan whose ideological disposition troubles many progressives. Her recent comments on marijuana not being medicine fly in the face of scientific findings, not to mention the views of CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

      Ambrose's opposition to making heroin available to patients who fail to respond to other approaches prompted Vancouver physician Gabor Maté to refer to her as Canada's "minister of disease".

      Rona Ambrose (left) has alienated B.C. physicians with her prohibitionist stance.

      Meanwhile, Harper's opposition to more supervised-injection sites is yet another example of the Alberta conservative political establishment's head-in-the-sand mentality with regard to science.

      These Alberta right wingers have fundamentally changed the direction of Canada. We saw it again this week when they passed the draconian Bill C-51, cowing the federal Liberals into submission. Legislation like this has influenced Canadians' overall perception of Alberta as a bastion of U.S. Republican thinking.

      Many progressives have felt powerless in countering this because there was a belief that the Conservatives under Harper were guaranteed a huge number of Alberta seats. And this enhanced his chance of remaining in power.

      Nobody likes to say this publicly, but this can't be denied: over the years, some on the Canadian left have resented Albertans for continually electing politicians like Harper, Ambrose, Kenney, Anders, and Manning.

      Klein's rise to the premiership in 1992 really started taking that province on its neoconservative path. He was cheered on by the University of Calgary academics, publisher Ted Byfield, and the founders of the Reform Party, including Harper.

      The right-wing agenda gathered momentum when Conrad Black and David Radler took control of Canada's largest national newspaper chain. They played a pivotal role in helping to unite right-wing forces under one party, which eventually came to be led by Harper. When the Asper family bought the newspapers, little changed because Black and Radler had already put in place a coterie of right-wing editorial writers who set the tone for political discourse.

      There's a lot of anger among progressives about the impact all of this has had on the country. But a fair amount of that has dissipated with Tuesday's election results.

      Albertans have demonstrated that they are far more than the sum total of the politicians they've been electing since the early 1990s.

      Four strong winds are blowing across the country. The prodigal son has returned to the Canadian family. For many progressives, all is now forgiven.

      Neil Young and friends sing the classic "Four Strong Winds" by Ian Tyson.




      May 7, 2015 at 5:13pm

      Wounds inflicted by Ralph Klein? Are you kidding? Ralph was the best Premier we've had in the past 30 years. Give your head a shake before writing a headline like that. Of course, the list of PC leaders, after Klein, were abysmal. I did vote for Notley, and I have faith that she will be a great leader.


      May 7, 2015 at 7:18pm

      That the NDP one a one term protest vote just proves that even the most rational governance can fall victim to gross incompetence and bad leadership.

      4 years won't come soon enough for most Albertans.


      May 7, 2015 at 8:21pm

      Every collectivist dream in this country has been bankrolled by the hard work of individuals who refuse to sit around demanding handouts. If the NDP can't get the Alberta economy running again the perennial "have not" provinces, hot beds of collectivist mythology, will have only BC to pillage on a regular basis. If the NDP in Alberta do to that Province what the NDP did to Ontario we will all suffer the consequences.


      May 8, 2015 at 2:37pm

      Good for the electorate in throwing out the PC's. They needed to lose an election.
      Once the NDP does what they do best, ruin the economy, Alberta will re-elect a right wing party.

      Apparently the last individualist

      May 9, 2015 at 3:18pm

      One of the worst articles I've ever read. To state that Alberta was a prodigal son is inane. It's difficult to be a prodigal son when you've got a whole nation shackled to your ankle. I don't understand how so many "progressives" are so ignorant of history and incapable of grasping the precedents set for an NDP government by BC and Ontario. The whole country will bear the brunt of this mass hysterical protest vote in Alberta and all of us Albertans will most certainly reap what 40% of us have sown. Sad days.


      May 11, 2015 at 2:55pm

      I was in Alberta from mid-March till the election in the AbNDP campaign office and I found this article to be bang on the money. It is interesting how the first 5 comments above do not exactly agree with Charlie, but the readers clearly do, as evidenced by their downward ratings of those same comments by trolls.

      For the 7 weeks leading up to election day, we would wake up and pinch ourselves and then the next day something else positive would happen for our campaign. What supporters said on the phones, Premier Prentice telling Albertans to look in the mirror (for the cause of their current financial state), the PC's Budget reducing charitable tax credits that were later rescinded. It was a perfect storm that surged continually. On platform day we made a multi billion $ mistake, we thought this might finish us, so we owned up to it and still they barely noticed. A few journalists even accused us of making the mistake intentionally in order to be able to apologize later.

      In the end, its as Charlie has described. Albertan's are not stupid and they are not as conservative as has been assumed. Especially in light of falling oil prices that have revealed that the Heritage Fund the Norwegians copied from the Albertans back in the 70's was almost non-existent. Albertans understood that after 40 years of trusting the conservatives, that trust had been completely and totally mismanaged and betrayed.