About the Election in Alberta, elections globally, and implications for the socially vulnerable

The Alberta election seems like a good occasion to do some blogging. I have been pretty busy lately, with all my legal and other matters. But they are for some later blogs.

I am from Alberta. The birth certificate says Red Deer, but I did not hang around there long. My parents moved to British Columbia for a few years shortly thereafter. I went with them, which flatly should not have happened, but that too, is another blog.

Even worse, they moved back to Calgary right about the time when it might have been better to have stayed in B.C. But that is an even stranger story. So I spent most of thirty years in Calgary.

Left coast

I regret not moving away from Alberta about twenty years before I did, and I will go into some of why below. But that was partly my own fault, this time. I spent some time in B.C. again but really did not like the social or medical systems there. I wanted to be well, not to merely live off social services all my life.

Since then the social system in BC under some right-wing-ying-yang governments has gotten as bad as it is anywhere in Canada. Yet I think it is still the end of the line for people forced to leave their home provinces by "get outta here" social policies, especially from Alberta.

Many of my relatives now live in B.C. There is really no reason for a retired or disabled person, somebody who is not looking to make money, to have a "career", to remain in Alberta; I think even more so than when I left.

life in Upper Canada

I think it was a smarter idea for me to come to Ontario. I arrived at the end of the Bob Rae days and just in time for the Harris era. More about Mean Mike Harris below, but he did not really do me much harm. After surviving Alberta in the 1980s as a "useless eater" the worst of Harris was like paradise.

I think Toronto and the larger cities of Ontario are the best places in Canada to be if you are disabled and poor. I am wandering around without getting to my topic, but I am establishing my biases.

twin provinces

One of the things I did when I got settled down in Toronto and availed myself of some educational opportunities was to look into the history of Alberta. Especially, why Saskatchewan and Alberta, settled at about the same time and with very similar economies, are thought to be so different politically.

Saskatchewan is thought to be the home of the NDP, because the first NDP, or rather CCF, provincial government sprang up there. Alberta is considered the home of super right wing, Texas style politics.

Look at what we have now. Saskatchewan has an extremely right wing government while look who Alberta just elected. It seems the accidents of the kind of leaders who emerge have as much to do with politics as with any cultural bias toward left or right.

In Alberta in the 1930s Bible Billy Aberhart and his Social Credit Party Motley Crew were able to take power by promising to cure the depression, by issuing a "social dividend". Then as now, this is as spurious as promising to make it rain. As in the opportunistic undertaker loosely based on Aberhart in the novel "The Words of my Roaring", he was able to create scapegoats until the rain actually started again, then took Credit.

To give Aberhart credit, he did some socially creditable things in office that eased the suffering of the depression. He put moratoriums on debt foreclosures. He created the "Treasury Branches" as an effective public banking system.

In some ways he was more progressive than Tommy Douglas and his CCFers. Tommy waited a generation before establishing medicare. Even then it was a seriously compromised program which nonetheless was developed into the flawed national program we have now. There was not really much that was cooperative in the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation.

Both Saskatchewan and Alberta developed out of a frontier settler mentality, with tendencies to the extreme left and right. I think B.C. is too, though to a lesser extent. B.C. never had much of a farming economy, and the culture is more urban/industrial oriented. But there are still plenty of the really nasty opportunists who are attracted by the resource wealth.

Alberta disease

This is the real problem in Alberta. Even Preston Manning has said that the worst thing to ever happen to Alberta was the oil strike at Leduc. A resource based economy is a bad economy, which is why Canada has had all these struggles to try to develop a more diverse, import replacing economy.

But we have always had push back from the hyenas who want to just rip resources out of the ground and ship it out as fast as possible without having to add any value to it. There is as much oil under Saskatchewan as under Alberta, but the oil people preferred to deal with the Alberta government until later on.

We have talk about the "dutch disease" now, about how a resource based economy inflates the national currency and and ruins domestic manufacturing industries. But even worse is the way it corrupts politics. Even industrial capitalists understand that they need government to provide them with infrastructure and a trained, healthy labor force, and to pacify public dissent.

But resource extractors think they could get by just fine in a world without people. The oil industry in particular needs only a few high skilled or highly driven people and can pull them in from anywhere. They are very good at using their limitless wealth to control governments wherever they want to operate.

The remarks on twitter, in reference to the Rachel Notley/NDP win, about how a coup might be being planned in Texas, is not so far fetched. Nothing bucks big oil in Alberta. That is the true cause of the apparent ultraconservatism of Alberta politics.


Yes, you have lots of haters and greeders in Alberta, but you have them anywhere. Saskatchewan has plenty of them. There are plenty on Ontario as well, otherwise how did Harris get into Queen's Park? But to have an effect, they have to be organized, and as importantly, their potential opponents disorganized/disrupted.

One reason the right wing is generally less effective in Ontario is because there is an older culture here. There are people who have developed communities over generations and learned how to protect them from the predatory and destructive elements of society. They have withstood globalist/neoliberalism better than in many places.

Alberta has been settled but never really settled down. The "social capital" with which to resist capitalism are inadequately developed, even though they had a good start early on. From my experiences, people have generally found it easier to move on than to dig in and fight for their community.

When I was trying to help get a movement going to protest the ugly scapegoating of the poor, most of the people who were fired up and angry had disappeared two years later. They either went back home or to British Columbia. And another year on, I was on the Greyhound with a "discovery pass" shopping for a new home province.

But in recent years I have noticed something interesting going on in Alberta. A few years ago, when the Basic Income North America biannual conference came to Toronto, there were all these very interesting presenters from Alberta. They were much different from the typical Ontario or British Columbia style of "antipoverty activist".

I think they have learned that there is absolutely no point in trying to "reason" with ideologues. There is no point to trying to negotiate if you have no chips to bargain with. Power has to be made to feel the heat through intelligent direct action and legal actions. As well, you have to have the brains not to be coopted by agents trying to use you for other agendas or to neutralize you.

You talk this way with any Toronto poverty activist and you get a very hostile response. They tend to be focussed near totally on political correctness, on making everybody in the in group feel good, and on the "fighting the good" fight mentality. And they wonder why they cannot get the actual impoverished classes interested in their nonsense.

The Alberta NDP did what it did by organizing on the ground. They are not retailing labor and social agency policies and priorities. Their policies are moderately progressive; giving their supporters a reason to support them, but not scaring off too many people. It is about as much as you can expect given the control of the media by neoliberalism, and the government structure, and the fear of change, the "middle class" sentiments, etc.

what next?

Are they going to do a "Bob Rae" and collapse under pressure? Are their supporters going to be self nullified by the "The Party must be supported at all costs" mentality, the hobgoblin of left politics in Toronto, or are they going to keep the pressure on the party to deliver? We shall see.

One of the smartest things Miss Rachel could do would be to put through a proportional representation reform as quickly as possible. No other province needs it more. When I lived there, I studied the voting system closely. The gerrymandering was the most extreme in Canada; the establishments second defense against a left government if the first failed.

The first defense was to not allow anyone to run against them; do not compete with the opposition, use your huge oil wealth to annihilate it. As for the second line, many downtown urban ridings had 50 000 people, while many conservative rural ridings had as few as 7000. The majority of people were and are in the two big metropolitian areas, but the majority of seats were and are outside that. Most people were not too concerned about that because the first line, producing huge majorities time after time, works so well that it is not noticed.

It is significant that Notley and company cracked both defenses; the second one on the first occasion it was really tested. This was because first of all, rural Alberta is not as conservative as generally thought; people with other ideas than the local bible bangers and bullies just learn to keep their mouths shut. And second, the right wing vote was split.

Come the next election, NDP Alberta will not have that advantage. The Alberta conservatives have a doctrine of keeping the right wing vote in one party that amounts to a third defense. The attempt to destroy the Wild Rose party by coopting its leader was an example of this, even though it backfired badly on them.

Next election, Notley Crue will face a unified right wing under the Wildrose banner. Given that and the gerrymandering, it would likely lose; no vote splits in the rural ridings. Remember that the Conservatives actually got more votes than Wild Rose but much fewer seats because of the way the votes split. That is plurality voting for you.

However, under strict Proportional Representation, you would still have had a "right of center" majority in this election. PR would be NDPs insurance against being nearly wiped out in the next election, like many one term NDP governments. Or many parties when the unstable splits of plurality voting goes against them.

I cannot prove it, but I have a feeling that with PR in Alberta, and in most provinces, the party structure would become more open, new parties would start up, people would be more confident about voting for them, and a persistent center left majority would develop.

real progress

But Rachel, dear, democratic reform is about a lot more than just fixing the voting system. Some Tory types are calling you a bunch of Chavistas. Maybe you should borrow some pages from Chavez. If not, some new party of the left should start up and do it. That is, to structure your party as a coalition of local circles, modeled on the Bolivarian circles.

No, that does not mean a lot of "all out for the party" groups who party apparatchiks think they should be able to turn on and off like with a switch. Interest groups would have to be very strongly discourages, especially social agency types. The party must be under control of the local citizen circles, not the other way around. They must develop to run social programs in their areas; not social agencies and social workers.

But I am not going to get into a big riff on "deep" democracy or "deliberative" democracy. Actually, that is a project for a new party that needs to get going on the left of the spectrum once PR is in place and fear of splitting the left is removed. The NDP could eventually become the "center party", which is where it seems really to want to be anyway.

more advice for Rachel

So, good luck, Rachel. You have been a long time coming. I go back a long way in Alberta politics at the grassroots level. I even shook hands with your daddy once. But I got fed up with matters NDP after the 1988 "free trade election" when the educated idiot Ed Broadbent refused to talk about free trade.

After that I worked for Sheldon Chumir for awhile before a change in riding boundaries put me in conservative country. Gerrymandering. You remember Chumir, Rachel? If he had not died suddenly from one of these mysterious cancers, he would likely have taken over the Alberta Liberals and turned it in a more progressive direction, and into government.

He left behind the Chumir foundation, which is one of the big funders of activism in Alberta, and of the national Basic Incomes movement. By the way, Rachel, where is your policy on BI? Never heard of it? Hm! Your thinking is still very twentieth century, Rachel. But so are most people's thinking, still, including in Alberta.


I think that includes most of my remaining Alberta relatives. I lost contact with them for some years, and the younger ones I have never met. I need to go back for a visit someday soon. Goin' home to Alberta someday soon. Sounds like a C & W song.

Yes, I have two nieces and a nephew in Alberta and I wonder how they are doing. But I am not so worried about them. I also have two nephews and a Niece in Britain and I am a lot more worried about them. That is because of that other interesting election that happened last week.

relating local and global

What this Cameron government has been doing sounds worse than Harris and as bad as anything I was dealing with in the eighties in Alberta. A real "hate the poor" campaign. Scapegoating immigrants, the disabled, those needing healthcare. Suicides and people starving to death, freezing to death in the streets.

And, like with Harris, you had all these turkeys saying, well we will wait five years and throw them out and undo everything. I remember asking Torontonians why they think Harris was going to lose the next election. You can vote him out but who do you vote in? I just got looked at like I needed a brain transplant.

It does not look like the slightest effort is being made in Britain, outside of Scotland and maybe Northern Ireland, to build a serious alternative. In Canada, the NDP and Greens are an option in a limited way, but we need something better.

It is not enough to build a party and get it into office. Look at Syriza in Greece. Yes, it is in power, but it depends on coalition partners. The public still has not got its head around the idea that they have to get out of the Euro.

The super lefties are screaming about Syriza as betrayers, etc. But Syriza does not have any mandate to take Greece out of the Euro currency bloc or the European Union. What it has a mandate for is to end "austerity", a word which disgusts me, and to renegotiate the loans from the "institutions".

The "institutions" have no interest in negotiating anything and are driving Syriza to the wall. It is a typical case of some rationalist types of people who suddenly are in positions of authority where they have to represent the interests of the group which put them there. They cannot understand that if they are going to negotiate something they have to have some leverage. The Greeks ruled out every option that could give them leverage and now they wonder why their oppressors will not "be reasonable". It is the psychology of serfs.

When the Harris and Eves people were finally voted out, the only option were Liberals who have this idea of "brokerage" politics. They think government is about "mediating" between competing interests. This is contemptible; they are there to represent the public interest, period. The interests of the loud mouths is not to be balanced against the interests of those who just want competent government that enables them to live their lives without interference.

Notley again, and Alberta's future

But now how is dear Rachel going to make out? She is a labor lawyer so she should have some idea of negotiations. Is she going to be able to take on Big Oil and get decent royalties for poor little Albertans who in legal theory own these resources? Are these royalties going to flow into the heritage trust fund again, so there is something to fall back on when the oil runs out?

Actually, the oil will never really "run out". There is an old saying; "the stone age did not end because they ran out of stone". Alberta will run out of demand for oil long before it runs out of oil.

But here is the problem with "diversification". Many "progressive" Albertans have this thing about diversifying the economy away from oil and gas. But diversify to what? Other than wheat and cattle, and some lumber and tourism, that is all they have.

Alberta has had this history of thinking it is the golden land of infinite wealth, and the eastern bastards are preventing them from developing properly. No. Alberta is not really economically viable. It is in the wrong location for any kind of manufacturing. Even free trade with the states has not and will not solve this basic problem.

Develop high tech or "knowledge" industries? What would those be? Everybody is developing a tech and information base. Alberta will not have any particular advantage in anything like that. Oh, but Albertans are smarter and more entrepreneurial people! Actually, Albertans tend to be more conformist and conventional that other Canadians; believe it, I am from there.

Ah, but maybe they are changing now; they are voting for "socialist" parties. Yes, things change. Alberta was considered a very radical place in the twenties and thirties. The CCF was founded in Calgary. The United Farmers of Alberta was really the most radical provincial government in Canadian history, encouraging the development of cooperatives of all types.

after neoliberalism

The whole neoliberal thing is not forever. With change the various sleazy politicians who now do their dirty work will see it all dismantled in their old age. Once they are out of power and largely forgotten about, the security details will be gone and they will be looking over their shoulders for some unstable individual looking for revenge for the harm policies the jerks associated themselves with did to their lives.

There will be lots of such people around and while I do not condone such behavior I hope that at least those who have done so much harm will live with that fear. Prentice really was not around long enough to cause much damage. But this Cameron in the U.K.? And what about Ontario's own Mike Harris?

So, Ms. Notley, do not end up as a killer of hope. From this distance you do not seem like the kind who will. I think the future is a bit more secure now for my Alberta Nieces and Nephew, if they should fall into hard times.

Harris after all that

But more on Mike Harris; I do not think he has done all that well in his retirement. He does not have the security detail anymore, that used to do things like help him bully his way to the front of lines.

When I ran into him last week at King and Bay, he had a gloomy look to him. I am sure it was him, though I have never seen him close up and in person before. He is getting old and developing kyphosis. He looks unhealthy and grey faced, though he has lost that beer nose. He still has those same gutless bullies eyes.

He combs his hair differently now, which he probably thinks disguises him. But there he was, shuffling past me as I stood by the bus stop. I had to look closely and he could see that I recognized him. I could see a little bit of fear.

What could I have said to him? I do not think I could have done better than what I did, which is to dismiss him with a contemptuous snort, and squint into the distance for the next street car. I speculated that he was on his way to pick up his latest moderate paycheck for parking his butt in a board chair, one of his dirty work rewards.

These people are said to not generally do very well after they are out of office; financially or emotionally. The ones who actually tried to serve the public interest seem to do a lot better, from what I have seen and read.

An exception seems to be Cameron's predecessor as neoliberal austerizer in the U.K., Blair, who is said to have gotten very rich after leaving office. That would encourage Cameron, which would be more bad news for my U.K. second order relations.

Once again, U.K. and relatives

It does seem really ugly there, and there is no Vancouver in the U.K., for the "useless eaters" to get on a bus and go to. It is probably worse than Alberta in the eighties. I hope they all stay healthy.

I do not really know how they have been doing in recent years, as I do not get along well with their parent. But I am going to have to find some way to contact them. I think I could help them a bit, about how to deal psychologically with being treated ...

I just hope they are all well in these "exciting times". Here is a good point to end this.