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Alberta Election: Far right holds on to its prairie stronghold

John Bell

May 30, 2023

In the end it wasn’t even close. Danielle Smith’s far-right UCP kicked the ANDP to the kerb, winning a clear majority of 52 seats to 35. Late results may see a shift of two or three seats but the outcome won’t change.

The UCP campaign served up a potent stew of reckless tax cuts and vote buying, dog-whistle bigotry, faux separatism and visceral hatred of anything connected with Ottawa.

The divide between rural and urban Alberta is stark, and the UCP has had years to redraw electoral districts to take full advantage of the fact.

It is a reminder that the anti-science populism of the convoy crowd has not gone away. The avowedly separatist Alberta First movement organized thousands to enter the UCP, supporting Smith for leader, and dragging the party even further to the right. 

Albertans are in for a rough ride. Expect a frontal attack on already bettered public services, healthcare user fees and even more resources siphoned out of public schools to give to private and charter schools, many run by right-wing mega-churches. Smith should find it easy to follow through on her promise to subject any tax increase to a full referendum – she’s in the business of tax cutting. After all, it is easy when your end game is to hand all services to corporations on a platter. Small wonder that big money poured into the UCP war chest.

Even the UCP’s disastrous handing of the wildfire crisis wasn’t enough to derail Smith. Utter dependence on the oil industry is enough to have voters sticking their heads in the tar sand, even as their house burns down around them. Alberta leads the nation in climate change denial – more than half refuse to believe the science. The province is in the middle of a years-long drought and tinder dry forests are an invitation for destruction that will cost the province billions this year alone.

The ANDP under Rachel Notley ran a horrendous campaign, sprinting to the right in search of conservative votes disturbed by Smith’s extremism. In the dying days of the campaign they unleashed endorsement from a parade of former Progressive Conservative cabinet ministers and senators.

Instead of running as the champion for public health, education and other essential services, she was a cheerleader for the oil and gas business, and pipelines. The words “climate change” never passed her lips.

As for the official organs of labour, the reaction to the election results from Allberta Federation of Labour head Gil McGowan tells the whole story: " you can expect more of the same constructive and pragmatic lobbying from us." Its enough to make you weep.

In truth, the NDP did see a modest increase its vote share and number of seats in the legislature. Their masterminds will attribute this “success” to their right-leaning strategy rather than revulsion at Smith’s extremism.  But it doesn’t add up to much. Now that Smith has her mandate, the gloves will come off the privatization agenda.

You really have to search for a silver lining, but if there is one it is this: the UCP is an internally divided group, with tension between big business pragmatists and ideologically driven extremists. With this win, it is the latter group that will be feeling justified, and eager to go after anything they decide is “woke”. They may well go too far and erode their own base.

The UCP win is bound to have a big effect on national politics. First it will give confidence to Pierre Poilievre and the Tories. Second it will give right-wing premiers across the country license to continue their assault on public healthcare. And worst of all, it will give the far-right splinter groups across the country, heirs to the trucker movement, energy to step up attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, Indigenous communities trying to assert their rights on their own land, and racialized communities facing a rise in overt bigotry and hate disguised as “free speech”.

There is an answer to all this. It means shifting energy from simple electoralism to organizing from the ground up, in our workplaces, schools and communities. When the far-right attacks story time events at public libraries, we are there to outnumber and stop them the way people in Peterborough and elsewhere have done. When they try to mobilize bigots to swamp school boards with homophobic attacks, we use our solidarity to defeat them, as the people of Brandon did. And when provincial politicians carve up our health services, we organize campaigns like the Ontario Health Coalition Citizen’s Referendum that gained hundreds of thousands votes against privatization despite being ignored by media and mainstream politicians.

The UCP victory shines a light on the task before us. The failure of the NDP shows us that voting, while still important, is not sufficient to beat back the austerity agenda that threatens us all. 

Alberta election aftermath update:
When all the dust settled, the UCP won 49 seats to the NDP’s 38, with Danielle Smith’s party taking 53% of the votes.
Along the way the UCP got shut out of the city of Edmonton, and Smith isn’t taking that sitting down. She took to her natural habitat, right-wing talk radio, to announce her plan to create a “Council of the Defeated”, consisting of failed UCP candidates from Edmonton.
“And so I'm going to rely on them to continue giving me advice because their capital city is vitally important to the overall success of Alberta.” 
Just not important enough to take advice from the people actually elected by the people of Edmonton to represent them.
And where will the money come to pay the Posse of Losers? If you guess Alberta taxpayers, you’re right.


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