Notley rouses her party for three years of political war

Premier Rachel Notley won the support of 97.8 per cent of her party members Saturday. The other 2.2 per cent were said to be hiding in a broom closet at the convention hotel.

Notley is respected, admired, even adored in her party. Part of this is circumstance. Any New Democrat who wins in Canada is bound to be popular with a party that wandered in the wilds for half a century.

But the other part, that’s all her. Notley can be fierce and funny in the same sentence. She lacks the pomposity so common to politicians. When the occasion demands, she can deliver a better motivational speech than any Progressive Conservative premier, including Peter Lougheed.

On Saturday Notley stirred New Democrats deeply. They went nuts, jumping to their feet literally dozens of times for long applause. The speech was unusually long but the delegates seemed to want more.

Conservatives will sneer that the New Democrats are all just bat-crazy, nothing more than a brief bad dream for Canada.

But visceral hatred of the NDP blinds them to the reality that they’re up against a seriously gifted leader. No opposition party has a chief who’s anywhere close. No party is likely to find anyone better.

In NDP terms, Notley is already succeeding powerfully. In little more than a year she has changed Canada both economically and socially. It’s her fervent goal to stamp these realities on the Canada psyche over the next few years.

She leads a caucus and cabinet unlike any Canada has seen, so diverse that even after a year, conservative heads still spin.

Really, try to imagine any PC cabinet minister describing himself as “a gay, New Democrat, Hispanic Jew.” You just can’t.

That’s what tourism minister Ricardo Miranda said Saturday. He joked that this has set him up for a lifetime of trouble, but look at him now.

The NDP drive for diversity can sometimes collide comically with the equally powerful impulse to gender equality. You really had to be there for the debate on gender balance in the party apparatus.

There was a suggestion that equality should mean 50 per cent woman, with the other 50 per cent comprised of men and all the other gender shadings.

The math gets difficult. “I feel uncomfortable with this,” one man said.

Ridiculous, maybe, but it stems from the NDP’s passion for treating all good citizens with dignity and respect, no matter what their differences, disabilities or divergences. Occasional silliness is a small price to pay for full-time tolerance.

Notley will use government for all these social purposes. “There is so much more to a society than buying and selling,” she said, in one of many references to conservative balance-sheet politics.

Notley’s thumping support — more than 20 per cent higher than any PC premier received in later years — shows she has full party authority for every element of the NDP platform and plan.

That includes the drive to get pipelines built. There’s some Leap Manifesto sentiment at the convention (ban fossil fuels and all that) but it’s in the background.

The dominant view is that oil and gas will continue to be used and needs to be shipped. And these delegates, few of whom belong to Canada’s economic elite, seem more than willing to pay the carbon tax.

The premier made it clear that there will be no back-up on any of her major programs and promises, including the minimum wage. The NDP will fight the next election with the promised $15-per-hour rate in place, she said.

Notley is clearly furious at Wildrose for its legislature attacks, and especially for the insult to visiting Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

She still fumes over the Bill 6 farm safety uproar. “It turned into a brutal debate, and sometimes an ugly one, when those who incite hatred and violence decided to join in,” she said.

Wildrose has declared war. Notley is mobilizing. The outcome may not be what conservatives want.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald


Braid: Notley rouses her party for three years of political war

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