United Conservative Party Promises Hard-Right Wedge in Alberta

PV Alberta Bureau

With the two right wing parties herded back into the United Conservative Party (UCP), and Jason Kenney elected as their leader, it is likely but not certain that they will win the next provincial election in Alberta.

In the May 2015 election, the NDP took its ridings in Edmonton and the bedroom communities of St. Albert and Sherwood Park by absolute majorities. Their votes outnumbered Conservative and Wildrose votes combined. In the rest of the province, except for Calgary Fort and Lethbridge West, the total of the two right wing party votes was significantly larger than the NDP vote. If the UCP can command the loyalty of all those Conservative voters and all those Wildrose voters they will overturn the NDP quite handily.

However, taking the loyalty of these voters for granted is what lost them the last election in the first place.

The NDP has been a well-behaved centrist party with respect to the economy. They have not challenged the supremacy of the oil and gas multinational corporations in the economy in either policy or rhetoric, leaving royalties low, framing any move towards green diversification as a way of justifying continued development of oil sands production, and claiming to be better than the conservatives at gaining approval for new pipelines. The final round of looting of the oil and gas sector before it is swamped globally by technological advances will be only marginally affected by whether it is the NDP or the UCP that fails to raise royalty rates or corporate taxes. This leaves little room for the UCP to claim the capitalist high ground, and gives only tepid motivation to the corporate sector back them. So expect an up-tick in treason – the right-wing propaganda machine will be doubling down on their old trick of blaming Ottawa, denouncing transfer payments and posing as defenders of poor exploited Alberta, and trying to implicate the provincial NDP in this nasty Eastern cabal.

If current projections are correct, the Alberta economy should do well between now and the next election, so blaming the NDP for the economy may not be such a winning strategy.

The local propaganda battle is therefore likely to play out in the area of social policy, and there’s going to be a lot of sex in it. The NDP has taken a forthright stand on supporting LGTBQ youth, mandating Gay Straight Alliances (GSA) clubs in high schools wherever students ask for them, and being willing to combat the homophobic trends in Catholic and Public School Boards to do so.

Jason Kenney has always been not just an opportunist supporter of corporate interests but an ideologue of misogyny and homophobia, starting his career campaigning against reproductive rights and consistently opposing protection of human rights at the federal level. Part of his handy majority within his own party came from organized anti-choice groups. His campaign for the leadership of the UCP was launched by proposing that schools should be required to tell parents if their child joins a GSA club. The NDP is now introducing legislation explicitly to protect children from being outed to their parents without their consent.

Consent could be the word of the year. Reactionary hatred of sex education, in the context of a general review of the public school curriculum, has handed the NDP another useful tool. Catholic school superintendents’ attempts to counter the proposed sex education program allowed NDP premier Notley and education minister David Eggen to take an explicit stand that homophobia will not be taught and the need for consent will be taught. They are essentially taking Jason Kenney’s dog whistle away, by explicitly refuting the unspoken implications of “parental rights” and “variety of religions perspectives”.

Last month’s municipal elections in Alberta featured the renewed election of progressive Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, in spite of a right-wing challenge that included both corporate backers and racist and Islamophobic mutterings. When polls mistakenly predicted that Nenshi would lose, the right-wing was happy to embrace the idea that this municipal election was a preview of the next provincial election.

They must now repudiate this notion, and it does not bode well for the UCP if all they have to offer is attacks on women and children.

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