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Look Before You Leap: A Working Albertan's Perspective On The Leap Manifesto

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LEAP MANIFESTO
Mark Blinch / Reuters
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Despite my frustration around the outcome of our recent NDP convention, I'm prepared to take Avi Lewis at face value when he says that he didn't expect his Leap Manifesto to be so explosive. And I'd like to try explaining the reaction from many Alberta New Democrats so that Mr. Lewis has a better sense of the road ahead.

To do so, let me tell you a little bit about the union for which I am President, UFCW Local 401.

We're not an obvious place to look for stories about the impact of low oil prices. But since the price of crude started to fall in August 2014, UFCW Local 401 has lost 1,200 members due to layoffs in the camps that service Oil and Gas sites throughout Northern Alberta.

We all have friends and family who have been out of work for going on a year, and sometimes more.

That's 1,200 everyday people whose lives have been turned upside down by the economic challenges facing our province. The jobs they lost paid them a good wage, giving them access to a decent life and in many cases supported families from whom they had moved far away in order to find work.

And our members are just the tip of the iceberg.

When we talk about issues like climate change and resource development, we have to remember that we are also talking about real people. And I don't mean Oil and Gas executives making millions and in some cases billions of dollars, but decent, hard working people who are just trying to make a living and support their families.

For New Democrats in Alberta those people are not theoretical.

We all have friends and family who have been out of work for going on a year, and sometimes more. We know people who's entire savings have disappeared, who are losing their homes, who don't know when they will be employed again, and don't know whether the job they go back to will be mortgage-paying and family-sustaining or part-time and precarious.

Our friends and family are hurting and they're vulnerable and we're doing our best to take care of them in what is an uncertain time for everyone. We're living with that reality -- not in some distant future, but right here, right now, every day.

Then perhaps you can imagine how it would be difficult for many Alberta New Democrats to stomach watching our federal party add insult to injury by dumping all over some of the very hard-working Canadians it's supposed to stand up for.

I mean, since when is it a tenant of our social democratic roots to demonize working people for making a living?

We agree that climate change is one the greatest threats currently facing humanity and requires immediate action.

And while I know you'll want to point me to the section of your Manifesto that talks about transitioning workers into new jobs, let me suggest that a pithy two-sentence reference to people's lives and livelihoods is unlikely to do very much to assuage their suspicions around how much you actually care about what happens to them.

What's more, as someone who has been involved in fighting for the rights of working families for several decades, references to "retraining" and "transitioning" are the sort of euphemistic phrases that workers are used to hearing when they're on raw end of a bad deal. Such language is a favourite tool of employers to soften the blow as they screw their workers out of wages, hours, and benefits. I've seen it used more times than I can count.

So while buzzwords might help to make your Manifesto catchy and concise, is our skepticism really such a surprise given that you've adopted the very language workers have come to associate with betrayal and bad faith?

But far and away the most challenging part in all of this is that Alberta New Democrats are genuinely supportive of your overall goals. We agree that climate change is one the greatest threats currently facing humanity and requires immediate action. For once the Alberta government is honestly trying to address the challenge of getting oil out of the ground in an environmentally responsible way.

Last year, the Notley government set the standard for climate leadership in Canada with a progressive and pragmatic plan that was literally the crown jewel of what our country had to offer at last year's COP21 conference in Paris.

Environmental leaders, First Nations leaders, and Industry leaders were present at the announcement of that plan to talk about why it was the right path forward on climate change. Many observers commented that having all of those groups united behind a plan seemed like some sort of political magic. But I think the simple truth is that our government was able to achieve what it did by putting people concretely at the centre of its plan.

In the same way that pipeline projects need to obtain social license in order to move forward in a 21st century context, our ideas for a Canada of the future need to achieve real buy-in from all of the parties they propose to impact. After all, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

It's not good enough to trot out sweeping declarations about being on the right side of history. Our political vision for the country must make room for a full range of voices at the table, even and perhaps especially those expressing dissent.

Look at the response you've seen from people in this province and ask yourself is this really just political theatre or are there legitimate concerns.

At the heart of the consternation many Albertans feel about the Leap Manifesto is the gnawing concern that you haven't fully grappled with the human lives standing in the shadows of your grand plans. Many of those lives felt lost and unacknowledged in the pomp and circumstance you paraded around the convention in Edmonton.

Those lives matter to us -- they are the lives our MLAs were elected to represent. And the passion you see coming from our elected representatives isn't calculated political posturing, it is a sincere and serious effort to do the job they were elected to do.

So offering up my own clever turn of phrase let me suggest that you should look before you Leap. And I mean really look.

Look at the response you've seen from people in this province and ask yourself is this really just political theatre or are there legitimate concerns. Look at the lives of the people your Manifesto proposes to change forever and ask yourself if you've really thought about it from their point of view.

And look at the schism in our Party that you didn't see coming and ask yourself whether it is a sign of much bigger problems waiting down the road.

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