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By Alvin Finkel

Opponents of strategic voting argue that it is an affront to democracy, and that sites like ChangeAlberta are all about denying choice to voters. That’s nonsense. Identification of individuals with a particular political party in Canada is actually quite rare. Only about one percent of voters in Canada have chosen to become members of a political party.

Now, of course, for those who have made that choice and believe in their party strongly, it sometimes seems unjust that people come along and say: your party and party y are similar enough and sufficiently different from party z, which I oppose heartily, that my vote will go to whichever of your party and party y seems to have the best chance of defeating z. If you belong to party x and feel, for whatever reason, that it alone embodies all that is good, fine, go ahead and vote for it. But don’t accuse others who view your party differently and don’t see it as all that unique of being undemocratic, of wanting to mislead the voters, etc. You live in a bubble that they don’t live in.

After all, even within the parties, and sometimes even among the activists, there are many people who choose to vote strategically. When they see that their party is unable to run a real campaign in their riding, and has no chance of succeeding, they decide that they do not want to waste their vote and so they give their vote to the candidate of one of the two top contenders in the riding. Now, of course, many other party stalwarts would never do that. They believe that in all conscience they can only vote for the candidate of their party and do not want to be in a position of choosing the least obnoxious of the top two choices. Some also rationalize that if their party is ever going to be a contender in a particular constituency, it needs to have all of its current supporters voting for it so that it has a base to build on for the next time.

But if you are not a member of any party or a fervent supporter–it seems strange not to join a party that you are fervent about since all the parties charge almost nothing to join and impose no obligations on members–the logic of worrying about future elections makes no sense. Nor are you likely to want to defy the logic of a first-past-the-post system by deliberately voting for someone who has no realistic chance of coming either first or second, that is someone who is not really in the race this time around. And if you do want to defy that logic, most strategic voters and strategic vote site operators respect your choice.

So, for voters, whether you are one percenters (members of a political party) or not, if you are more interested in defeating government members or candidates of a particular political leaning (whether left or right or separatist or anti-environmentalist) it certainly makes sense to consider strategic voting. You are then faced with the dilemma though of figuring out who the top two horses in a race are. Sometimes that’s easy enough and sometimes it seems rather difficult. The point of a strategic voting site is to give you information that will help you out with that decision. Obviously, as opponents of strategic voting harp upon, such sites make mistakes. Like you, they might misread the cues about what’s going on in the heads of your fellow constituents. But they are spending more time and resources in trying to figure it out than you might be able to expend. So, they are worth your consideration.

ChangeAlberta, the DRP-created strategic voting website, will be recommending candidates with a chance of defeating both the Tories and Wildrose in select constituencies (constituencies where someone who does not believe in either the tooth fairy or Santa Claus nonetheless believes that a candidate who is to the left of Genghis Khan still has a remote chance of winning). We won’t be favouring any party and we won’t be considering which candidates of the NDP, Liberals, Alberta Party, and Evergreens seem morally more worthy than other candidates. Each voter who wants to vote purely on the basis of party or the worthiness of individual candidates can make that choice and hardly needs a third party’s advice. But for voters who mainly want to throw the rascals (the Tories)out without replacing them with even worse rascals (Wildrose), or at least to have a large somewhat progressive opposition in the legislature, ChangeAlberta will offer a great deal of assistance as they ponder their vote.

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Types of cooperation

Neither a Merger Nor a War?

by ALVIN FINKEL

The media, as well as hyper-partisans in both the NDP and Liberal parties, lazily treat every suggestion regarding cooperation among political parties of the left and centre as a proposal for a merger. But federal NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen is burning a hole in that conflation of cooperation with merger. He has suggested that the NDP, Liberals, and Greens each choose a candidate in a constituency but that they then have a common nominating meeting in which one of the three is selected to be the only candidate of the centre-left in the constituency. That candidate would run under the banner of her or his party, but with the understanding that the three parties intend to form a coalition if between them they have a majority in the House of Commons.

This proposal has met with support from Green leader Elizabeth May, who does not necessarily endorse its details but feels that the parties need to pursue means of cooperating to insure the defeat of the Conservatives in 2016. She regards Cullen’s proposal as a refreshing effort to go beyond a destructive partisanship that insured that the three federalist centre-left parties, while together they enjoyed the votes of a majority of Canadians in the last three federal elections, did not get to form a government. Long-time federal New Democrat MP from Winnipeg, Patrick Martin, has also indicated his support.

Cullen’s parliamentary website boasts that “Nathan’s commitment to bipartisan work has helped him in negotiating a number of legislative initiatives through the House of Commons including a private member’s bill to restrict harmful phthalates in children’s products and a bill to set federal targets for greenhouse gas reductions.” That ability to get Liberals and New Democrats, along with the support of the Bloc Quebecois (the Greens were not in the last House) to support progressive legislation is meaningless now that the Conservatives have an absolute majority in the House. The war of Liberals and New Democrats during elections has made it largely irrelevant for the next four years whether or not they cooperate in the House. But it makes it that more crucial that they figure out ways of cooperating in the next election.

While Cullen is alone among the contenders for NDP leader to suggest a process for formal cooperation, the top two candidates, Thomas Mulcair and Brian Topp, have been involved in post-election efforts to form coalitions in the past. Topp, a shadowy fellow who has never been elected to office, was nonetheless key in negotiating the succesful coalition of the Roy Romanow NDP with the provincial Liberals in 1999 and both Topp and Mulcair were involved in the ultimately failed efforts to form a coalition of the two parties with Bloc support after the 2008 federal election. Mulcair remained vocal about the need for the NDP and Liberals to come to terms before the next election. But despite efforts by Ed Broadbent and Jean Chretien to produce a pre-election coalition, nothing came of the idea before the federal election. Afterwards, Broadbent and Mulcair both seemed to cool to the idea while Chretien appeared to support a merger.

The NDP now has a caucus of 59 members in Quebec. But, as Chantaal Hebert has commented in the Toronto Star, a newspaper that supported strategic voting on the centre-left in the 2011 federal election, the best-known New Democrat MPs in Quebec are Mulcair, a former provincial Liberal Cabinet minister, and Francoise Boivin, a former Liberal MP. Meanwhile, of course, the acting leader of the federal Liberals is Bob Rae, the former NDP premier of Ontario, while one of his key colleagues in his party’s caucus before the last federal election was Ujjal Dosanjh, the former NDP premier of British Columbia.

In Alberta, the centre-left, which won about 40 percent of the vote in the last two provincial elections, has weakened itself by finding no way at all to cooperate. The DRP is proposing to Albertans who want a progressive government that they vote strategically in the next provincial election, and when the election is called, will assess each seat to determine which party, if any, has the strength to defeat the Tories and Wild Rose if enough of the progressive vote moves over to that candidate. But Nathan Cullen has openly raised the possibility on the national level of a more effective way of insuring the defeat of Tory governments that represent only the famous “one percent.” His ideas deserve a close hearing from all progressives.

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Dear Brian,

After 40 years of membership in the NDP in several provinces, I am severing my ties with the Alberta party and considering severing ties with the federal party as well. Your mean-spirited dismissal of Dr. David Swann’s gesture to unite progressive forces in this arch-conservative province depresses me immensely and leaves me little choice but to break with a party with which I have identified for my entire adult life.  If I ever return, it would be after you are no longer leader and when the party proves more willing to be strategic and to make being part of government in Alberta its objective. For now, I will make my political home in the Alberta Liberal Party, something I am proud to do after attending the recent provincial Liberal convention and finding that almost all of that party’s activists are at least as progressive as most NDP activists.

You suggest that Dr. Swann’s call for unity of progressive forces is an act of desperation. In fact, you know quite well that Dr. Swann has been calling for such a realignment since the disastrous 2008 election in which the NDP vote was less than a third of the Liberal vote. In any case, why do you not feel a sense of desperation about the terrible conditions to which Albertans are subjected because of permanent right-wing government? Do you actually believe any of the things that you say in the legislature or are you only willing to see changes in Alberta if the people of Alberta give the NDP a one-party majority so that it can implement its platform? That of course will never happen.

You claim that the Alberta Liberal party is a “train wreck.” In fact, it has erased its debt and its constituency organizations are mostly intact. By contrast, the NDP has a debt of $500,000 and a declining membership. It is clear from the Elections Alberta site that as of December 31, 2009, most NDP constituency organizations are moribund. Paid party officials, rather than local members, are listed as the president and chief financial officer for most of the constituencies. My own constituency, Mill Creek, had no annual general meeting or any other meeting in 2008 and again in 2010. It only met in 2009 at my insistence and the annual meeting became basically a battleground between supporters and opponents of cooperation with other parties. The latter won thanks to extensive interference by the party office at your behest but they have subsequently failed to keep a constituency organization alive. In short, the NDP has almost no institutional
existence in Alberta outside of a small number of constituencies.

The provincial Liberals held an open convention this past May in which a resolution for cooperation among progressive parties passed. None of the MLAs including the party leader attempted to steer the general membership in a particular direction. There was no effort to shun or shut out party members who supported cooperation. By contrast, at last year’s NDP convention, you led the debate against cooperation, and many party members were afraid to be seen talking to supporters of cooperation because of the intensity of the bitterness towards us that the leaders exhibited. It was such a small convention despite being open to all members and admission was
quite inexpensive; yet the party saw no problem in the fact that it now has few active members and went out of its way to make the party more fortress-like than ever.

I do applaud your and Rachel’s performance in the legislature. As in the 2004-08 legislature, it’s clear that the NDP members perform well above their numbers. But what impact has the NDP, working alone, had on legislation in this province over the past several decades? In my view, none. The litany of complaints about all government policies that both the NDP and Liberals continue to make demonstrates that nothing important is changing in Alberta. Governments, not oppositions, make legislation and no government is going to bend its legislation to appease a tiny opposition party which has no strategy to increase its numbers other than to do what it has done mostly unsuccessfully for 50 years. The NDP should have applauded and supported the significant shift to the left of the Alberta Liberals under Kevin Taft and David Swann. Instead it has made undermining  that party almost an obsession and rejected all efforts to effect electoral
cooperation with the Liberals or anyone else. You have become past master at demonstrating every contradiction in Liberal policy, though the even greater contradictions in NDP policy don’t seem to faze you.

In short, it seems to me that the current NDP leadership is so partisan that it has made its commitment to social change secondary to its commitment to keeping the NDP a completely separate entity. No one is calling on the NDP
to disband, but its leadership keeps confusing working arrangements with other parties, which are extremely common in most countries, with a merger. In the circumstances I do not want in any way to be associated with the
NDP.

I don’t consider this a personal matter and I will be sending this letter to many people both inside and outside the NDP. It is my clear hope that the small group of people who remain in the NDP will see the wisdom of removing
you as leader and replacing you with someone who is able to work cooperatively with others inside and outside the party, and to reinvigorate the party by looking at strategies other than the failed one that left the party with only 8.5 percent of the vote in 2008 and no willingness to even question why.

Sincerely,

Alvin Finkel,
Co-Chair,
Democratic Renewal Project

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by ALVIN FINKEL

It received little attention in Alberta, but on December 24, 2009, the Toronto Star reported that Alberta Liberal leader David Swann supports at least a baby step in the direction of the Democratic Renewal Project’s call for an electoral coalition of progressives.

“For the first time anyone can remember, the Conservative party is going to be split and the Wildrose Alliance is going to fundamentally change the climate here and take away their support. We have to stop doing that at the centre and centre-left,” said Swann.

“We need to move to the next stage for both of our parties, the Liberals and the NDP. We may have our stalwarts but this is about getting a better government finally in this province.”

Added The Star: “Swann said he’d like to see an arrangement so incumbent Liberals or New Democrats run in their ridings without competition from the other party. NDP Leader Brian Mason said his members have voted against any coalition with the Liberals and the party is committed to running a candidate in every riding. However, Mason said he’s watching to see what happens.”

Swann’s public call for the Liberals and the NDP to work together, while somewhat tentative, is a milestone in efforts to get progressive-minded Albertans to work together in the next provincial election regardless of whether they supported the Liberals, the NDP, or the Greens in the last election or indeed fooled themselves that Ed Stelmach was going to return the Tory party upon which Ralph Klein had stamped his image back to the Peter Lougheed days when the party was more centrist. But the Liberal party as a whole seems rather silent about Swann’s move to make the Liberal party the leader of progressive electoral forces in the province.

On the whole, those who join the Liberal party in Alberta today rather than one of the two flavours of right-wing philosophy on offer have different social values than Conservatives and Wild Rosers. They are far more committed to equality of opportunity, social inclusion, democratic rights, the right of individuals to have their basic social needs guaranteed, and the need to protect the environment than Cs or WRs who extol human greed, keeping governments off our backs, and the like. They would not have elected first Kevin Taft and then David Swann as leaders if they did not share small-l liberal values. Of course, such values are fundamental as well to the provincial NDP and the two parties have sparred for a long time as to which of them is the legitimate small-l liberal party in Alberta.

But the Liberal party, like any party, has both ordinary members and an inner circle who set the real directions for the party. It would seem that within that inner circle there is confusion about how the Liberals should approach the evolving political developments in the province. The Tories seem to be down for the count thanks to their ineptitude and the rise of Wild Rose. While most Liberals see that Wild Rose represents at least as great a threat to liberal values as the Tories, others, for tactical reasons, rather than principled reasons, believe that some sort of working alliance with Wild Rose might cause some Tory seats to fall to the Liberals.

That’s a dangerous strategy and one that plays into the hands of both Wild Rose and that section of the New Democrats who want no truck or trade with other parties. Wild Rose is winning support because it has an articulate but unscrupulous leader who is now the leading political liar of the province: Danielle Smith, though she is right-wing to the core, is pretending to be open, moderate, and socially conscious. She is pretending that she can wave a magical wand that will at once reduce wasteful government spending and taxes while preserving and extending needed social programs. She claims that the oil companies, whose royalties are a pittance, are over-taxed. If her bluff is not called, she will get away with the votes of all sorts of unsophisticated voters who are not going to do the math regarding her vague promises. The Liberals need to demonstrate that she and her party are phonies, who will go even further than the Stelmach Tories in gutting social programs and allowing the environment to be despoiled. They cannot team up with Wild Rose simply because both groups are trying to discredit the Tories.

Instead, what the Liberals need to do is to emphasize their social values and make clear to Albertans how a government that they lead would differ from a government led both by Ed Stelmach/Ted Morton, on the one hand, and Danielle Smith on the other. They need to be clearer about fiscal policy as well as social policy and to let Albertans know how they will pay for the programs that their website announces. And they need to push publicly for an alliance with the NDP and with what remains of the former provincial Green party so that Albertans can feel that there is an alliance other than the Wild Rose Alliance that has a chance of forming government and which plans to carry out very different initiatives from Wild Rose.

The provincial Liberals have not, despite what some media columnists claim, been written off by Albertans. Their levels of popular support are unchanged since the last election. It would seem that most people who supported the Liberals in 2008 are not fooled by Danielle Smith. But if the party is to grow it needs to win over some of the something-for-nothing voters who voted Tory in 2008 and now are lurching to Wild Rose. It also needs to win non-voters and new voters by making its alternatives for Alberta as sharp as possible.

A move away from principles and clear programs on the part of the Liberals would deprive Albertans of the key party that they have been willing to trust to provide progressive government in the province. In Edmonton, it might allow the NDP to pick up a few seats at Liberal expense, something that the most partisan members of that party hope for since they have long since given up fighting the right-wing in Alberta except rhetorically. In Calgary, it might encourage past Liberal voters who don’t particularly want a right-wing government but who yearn to kick the Tories out to cast their vote for Wild Rose (only the most blinkered of New Democrats thinks that that party can advance in Calgary in the near future).

The Liberals need to look at themselves honestly and to recognize that they cannot be contenders for power in Alberta if they are not taken seriously by the people of the province. To be taken seriously, they have to be able to put forward a clear vision, based on clear social values and policies that flow from those values, and they have to be able to demonstrate that they can form government, a demonstration that looks impossible at the moment but which will seem more realistic if they are in an alliance with the NDP and with former Greens who, between them, can honestly say that they begin with the base of the 40 percent of voters who voted for progressive candidates in 2008.

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by ALVIN FINKEL

During the four decades of Tory reign in Alberta, but especially after Ralph Klein became premier in 1992, progressives in Alberta have spawned a number of coalition movements that have few equivalents in other provinces. Friends of Medicare (FOM), Public Interest Alberta (PIA), and the Parkland Institute have been the major coalitions, spawned in every case by trade unions and other employee groups, though supported by a wide variety of progressives in the churches, social agencies, the arts, and poverty groups. Within the past week, yet another coalition has been announced. Join Together Alberta unites both existing coalition groups, such as FOM and PIA, with other organizations and individuals who are worried about the Stelmach government’s fetish about eliminating the provincial deficit, but without increasing taxes. Bill Moore-Kilgannon, the knowledgeable and tireless executive director of PIA, notes: “We have brought together an unprecedented amount of organizations and individuals who are joining together because they’re deeply concerned about two billion dollars–that’s two hundred million dollars–in cuts are going to mean to public services here in Alberta.”

I applaud the creation of this new coalition and I can understand why some people think that this sort of organization can bring fundamental change. Progressives in Alberta are very good at self-delusion. When thousands rallied against the Klein cuts and they were gradually eased, we slapped ourselves on the back though social programs were never restored to pre-Klein levels. When Bill 11 threatened privatization of our hospitals, and was withdrawn after mass protests, we congratulated ourselves again though privatization throughout the health system grew apace nonetheless. Similarly, though our protests stopped Klein’s “Third Way” movement as a set of coherent measures, informally the chipping away at public health and public social services continued apace.

In short, we’ve had decades now of organizations and coalitions working to stop the Tories from doing their worst. The time has come to stop simply uniting to persuade our divinely-ordained rulers to stop giving in to their very worst instincts, and to openly call for their ouster and their replacement by a party coalition with different values that can move the province forward in progressive directions. The groups that spend so much of their time trying simply to hold back a deluge of reactionary legislation need to put in power a government that will listen to proposals that take the existing social net as a given and try to add to it in ways that will create a society of greater equality and greater inclusion.

The efforts by labour in particular to avoid the latter issue because some of their members are NDP partisans to the point of nuttiness, while others are non-partisan to an equal point of nuttiness, have to end. There needs to be formal recognition that: 1)You change the overall tenor of government not simply by uniting everyone to demand that the government do this and that (though that is useful, of course) but by electing governments that reflect your values. 2)Governments in Canada can be either single-party governments or coalitions of somewhat like-minded parties. Coalitions are not that uncommon in Canadian history or in the recent past: the last Roy Romanow government in Saskatchewan, formed after the 1999 election, was a “joint coalition Cabinet-full partners in managing the government,” as their press release indicated. Whether progressive parties need to work together before an election is something that local circumstances determine. In Manitoba, for example, progressives tend to unite provincially behind the NDP because it has a sufficient provincial base to win elections on its own.

The base for progressives in Alberta is smaller, while the base for conservatives is much larger than in other provinces. We have two parties that espouse extremely rotten values and that are simply creatures of Big Oil. Those who want change need to get the two parties who have good and similar values to work together formally. Any other coalition, if it does not manage to win that political coalition, is not going to achieve much no matter how many people it enrolls.

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By Alvin Finkel

The defection of two Tory MLAs to Wild Rose has largely led to commentary on the state of the Conservative Party under Ed Stelmach. But that may largely miss the point about the broader problem of Alberta politics: it is largely fraudulent politics in which the oil companies call the shots and largely unprincipled individuals are elected to office to represent only the interests of the well-to-do.

What about Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson and their complaints that the Conservative party no longer spoke for their constituents? Their comments suggest that neither has any political ethics. Forsyth is quoted as indicating that she thinks that the Stelmach government’s new royalty regime is too hard on the energy companies. But their royalty regime, which only modified cosmetically the Klein era royalty schemes, was announced BEFORE the last election, and she and Anderson and all the others who agreed to run under the Tory banner were pledged to that policy. Under energy company pressure and the pressures from Wild Rose, which gas money transformed from a rural nutcase fundamentalist Christian party into a slick urban political machine, the Tories backed off collection of most of the monies that they promised to collect. Yet, for Forsyth, the Tories have failed to go far enough in the direction demanded by the energy giants and by the party that the energy giants captured when their former political instrument, that is the Tories, showed a modicum of independence, however small. Clearly, Forsyth and other Tory MLAs are worried that their former corporate backers will desert them in favour of Wild Rose. So they have tried to do an end-run by joining Wild Rose.

Is that democratic? Not at all. Forsyth and Anderson were not chosen to run in 2008 by a Wild Rose constituency association and they did not run on the Wild Rose platform. They show contempt for the members of their new party and for the voters in their ridings by failing to step down from their seats and seeking to win first a Wild Rose constituency association fight for a nomination and then an endorsement by their voters in their new guise as Wild Rosers.

Well, what about their other criticisms of the Stelmach government, apart from its supposed toughness on gas producers? Forsyth attacked the government both for getting into debt and for its cutbacks. This line of argument is part of the fraud that has been prevalent in Alberta politics for many years but especially since the beginning of the Klein era. It’s the something for nothing philosophy. The notion is that Albertans are supposed to have first class services without anyone having to pay much in taxes. In fact, we have lousy services in many areas because the government is so solicitous of corporate interests and the interests of the well off who could easily pay far more in taxes without it having much impact on their standard of living.

As I write this, I am in Winnipeg, where I have spent the last several weeks visiting my mother who is in a hospital palliative care unit. Mom is a 20-year survivor of ovarian cancer and has required a variety of homecare and health care services during that period. If she lived in Alberta, she would have received much poorer services unless she or her kids coughed up a lot of money to pay for things that are free in Manitoba. In brief, the difference between Manitoba and Alberta is that Manitoba has had 50 years of governments (with a few brief exceptions), both NDP and Tory, that accept the need for some fundamental human decency on the part of government. Alberta, by contrast, particularly since the Klein years, has had governments that could care less about the common man or woman, or the environment, or anything else that does not put the corporate bottom line first.

There is however little secrecy about why Manitoba–or Quebec, or Saskatchewan–can provide humane care for seniors, kids, the poor, etc. relative to Alberta. In Alberta, the flat tax rate means that multi-millionaires pay only 10 percent of their income in provincial taxes. In Manitoba their equivalents pay 15 percent. There is a 7 percent sales tax in Manitoba. Gasoline taxes are far higher than in Alberta. Corporate taxes are higher.

Ultimately Albertans also have to decide whether they want decent services from government or simply want to stash every penny they earn in their bank accounts, which could easily be ripped to shreds if they turn out to be the unlucky ones that have a family member requiring expensive health services, or home care, or daycare, or special educational requirements. Et cetera, et cetera.

The Wild Rose fraudsters, like the Tory fraudsters, pretend that no such choices are necessary. But they are. The Liberals, New Democrats, and whatever groups are forming to replace the provincial Greens need to address fundamental fiscal issues and to offer Albertans a detailed plan for a progressive government. They need to do this TOGETHER rather than separately so that Albertans get a sense that they have a real choice of governments in the next election rather than simply a choice between two fraudsters.

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by Alvin Finkel

Premier Stelmach noted the other day in an interview, published in the Edmonton Journal, that the Wild Rose Alliance policies on some issues were “draconian.” He singled out their policy, readily available on their website, to ban teachers’ strikes. Considering that the Tories have already banned health care strikes, Stelmach’s concerns seemed of the crocodile-tear variety. Tory governments in Alberta have passed one piece of anti-labour legislation after another. The result is that “union density” in Alberta in 2008–the percentage of people employed by others who have representation by a trade union in their dealings with the employer–was only 22.7 percent. That put Alberta at the very bottom of all provinces and well below the national average of 29.4 percent. At the other end of the spectrum were Newfoundland at 36.8 percent, Quebec at 35.5 percent, Manitoba at 35.1 percent, and Saskatchewan at 33.8 percent.

But Premier Stelmach is certainly right in declaring that Wild Rose’s policy regarding teachers’ right to withhold their labour is “draconian.” It’s part of a draconian labour policy, and what follows is the verbatim labour platform included on their website.

Labour

  • allow individual workers the choice to determine their membership in labour organizations.
  • allow competition to the Workers Compensation Board.
  • extend to workers the democratic right to a secret ballot vote on labour organization certification under the Labour Code and ensure that the same rule apply for de-certification as for certification.
  • restore education as an essential service under the Labour Code ensuring that no childs right to an education is denied by school strikes or lockouts.

The first policy, which looks “democratic” at first blush, is an effort to revoke the Rand formula, which was devised by Justice Ivan Rand after World War 2 as the way to recognize that everyone in a unionized work place benefits from the collective agreement that the union negotiates and therefore no one should be able to get a free ride by not paying union dues. It also recognizes that if there is a union in place on a worksite that employers might put undue pressure on workers not to join if membership in the union is not compulsory.

In many Southern and Western United States states, “right to work” legislation of the kind supported by plank one in the Wild Rose labour platform has resulted in a complete collapse of unionization, with unsurprisingly devastating consequences for wages and working conditions. Unsurprisingly, while American and Canadian rates of unionization were similar in the 1960s before such legislation was introduced in the U.S.–no Canadian province has such legislation–, the American rate of unionization in 2008 was 12.6 per cent versus 29.4 per cent in Canada.

Policy number three above, dealing with secret ballots, has been demonstrated over time in the United States to give employers the ability to threaten workers with shutdowns, job cuts, and the like in order to keep out unions. In the U.S., the progressive wing of Democratic legislators, including President Obama, are committed to the Employee Free Choice Act, which has been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate, and which would allow unions the right to receive certification when they sign up a majority of potential members of a union local. Republican legislators, supporting the same reactionary business interests who oppose universal medical care insurance in their country, have lined up agains the EFCA, claiming that it is undemocratic. In Canada, right-wing business interests, and the Fraser Institute, one of the “think tanks” that business sponsors in an effort to disguise their own efforts to change public policy and public opinion, want the Canadian federal government and the provinces to imitate current American legislation that requires a secret vote no matter how many workers sign up to join a union. Wild Rose, funded by the big oil companies and the big oil companies alone, is part of this business lobby to destroy unions.

Policy 2 above regarding the WCB reflects the Wild Rose’s view that governments can do nothing either efficiently or properly. Better then to privatize their functions. The WCB under the Tories is certainly a mess. Reflecting the Tories’ pro-business and anti-spending fetishes, it tries to prevent injured workers from getting what is supposed to be insurance rather than insuring that they are looked after. In many respects, it mimics how private insurance companies operate, placing corporate profit above the needs of the insured. Wild Rose wants to go the next logical step. Instead of making the WCB a provider of real insurance, and trying to limit necessary payouts by having tough and well-enforced workplace safety legislation, they have opted for simply gradually privatizing the WCB.

If one looks at other Wild Rose policies, it is easy to see that it is more than just the WCB workers who will be toast under a Wild Rose government. While Wild Rose claims that it will respect the principles of the Canada Health Act, including public administration, it has a narrow understanding of “administration.” For them, as for the Tories, public administration does not mean public delivery of health. Here are the code words for privatization of health delivery from the Wild Rose policy book: “provide health care funding that will follow the service to the health care provider and approved facility of choice.” So the rich will be able to get the same basic services from a private health care provider, and then supplement that service out of their own money. With what result for the publicly funded health care system? More code words: Wild Rose will “encourage and support innovations in the delivery of health care.”

And will Wild Rose deal with gaps in the current health care system and fund the costs associated with an aging population? No. Their fiscal policy is to “limit growth in spending to the rate of inflation and population growth in Alberta.” As we know, that is the Ed Stelmach policy as well. It ignores the fact that, as a recent Parkland Institute study has reiterated, Alberta’s supposed current $4.3 billion deficit could be erased in two seconds if Alberta taxed corporations and individuals at rates similar to what other provinces tax. Indeed, the province could be as much as $20 billion richer than it currently is while still having essentially a free enterprise economy if it properly taxed the energy companies, reintroduced progressive taxation to replace Ralph Klein’s flat tax that no other province has seen fit to emulate, and introduced a small sales tax.

And what about all those “accidents” that cause workers to end up on workers’ compensation? Accidents are in quotes because in almost every case, a so-called accident could be prevented if safety laws were adequate as well as adequately enforced. Well, their numbers will increase as will environmental disasters and dangers to the public of other kinds that might be prevented by proper law enforcement. Wild Rose promises to “cut red tape and the regulatory burden by 1/3.” The likely results are obvious: think Walkerton!

In many ways, the future of our already precarious labour movement is on the line. But what electoral strategy does it have to prevent Wild Rose from coming to power either as a majority government, a minority government dependent on the Tories, or a strong opposition force driving the Tory agenda? So far, one sees little. A few unions contribute money to the NDP, sometimes for reasons that seem family-related rather than labour-related. Most of the unions contribute nothing to any party and neither their leaders nor many of their members are party activists. The labour movement makes no demands on the NDP or the Liberals or the Greens to work together to defeat the Right. Yet, it is the trade union movement and its members, particularly in the public service, who are most vulnerable to the continued domination of the Right in Alberta and the recent rise of the farthest Right movement that has ever done well in public polling in Alberta. These organizations are the only ones with sufficient money to mount a proper campaign to counter the extravagant campaigns that oil money will buy for both Wild Rose and the Conservatives in 2012. But will they have the vision to do it or will they run another expensive but meaningless campaign like they ran in 2008, afraid to come out in support of particular winnable candidates in winnable ridings and help fund their campaigns? Labour’s campaigns at street level have a degree of impact on public policy even when the Right rules, but the thinness of that impact has been painfully evident for some time. Either labour gets very involved in Alberta politics, pursuing a DRP-like strategy, or it allows Alberta, already something of an anomaly among Canadian provinces, to become a full-out Alabama with no labour movement worth speaking of.

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