Orange Chinook captures giant change in Alberta politics
Mount Royal media makers editors of new book
In 2015, the unthinkable happened. The New Democratic Party unseated the Progressive Conservatives, a dynasty that had won every Alberta election since 1971, forming the province’s first NDP government.
The rest is history, but until now that history has been captured mainly in newspaper, radio, TV and web reports. Orange Chinook: Politics in the New Alberta, a new book featuring Mount Royal University faculty (many of whom are go-to experts in those same media stories), outlines what led to this momentous change in the first scholarly analysis of the election and a political landscape turned upside down.
The authors believe it “will be the essential guide to Alberta politics and to the NDP government for some time to come.” The 360-page book, which will be released Jan. 31, is part of the series Arts in Action, a co-publication of the University of Calgary Press and Mount Royal University. A book launch takes place Feb. 4 at the new central library with further events planned for MRU and U of C.
Orange Chinook examines the Progressive Conservative dynasty that launched with Peter Lougheed’s victory in 1971 over the Social Credit Party, which had governed for the previous 36 years. It takes readers through the PC and NDP campaigns of 2015, polling and online politics, providing context and setting the stage for the unprecedented NDP victory. It also highlights the importance of Alberta's energy sector and how it relates to provincial politics, focusing on the oilsands, the carbon tax and pipelines.
The volume gets out from under the “dome” to include Indigenous, urban and rural perspectives as it explores the transition process and government finances and politics. It also drills down on the governing style of Premier Rachel Notley, particularly her response to the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire and to the role of women in politics.
“Indeed, if a group of Albertans living in 1990 were to be suddenly transported to 2019, much of what they would see would be unrecognizable,” the main authors write in the book’s preface.
Orange Chinook: Politics in the New Alberta
That, of course, includes the demise of the PC party that was engrained in every nook and cranny of the province for decades, the rise of the NDP led by a woman premier, the rise and fall of the Wild Rose Party, and the uniting of the right under Jason Kenney and the UCP. It also includes hikes to the minimum wage, large deficits and a province mired in a downturn. Then there's a renewed focus on environmental politics that has Alberta battling to build routes to new oil markets while often appearing to be on the wrong side of history to those living outside its borders.
“There are very few books on Alberta politics,” says Duane Bratt, PhD, chair of the Department of Economics, Justice and Policy Studies at Mount Royal University and one of the book’s editors. “When you have a shift in government for the first time in 44 years, we felt the book was warranted. Even in the first year of the NDP government, we realized it wasn’t just a shift in government. We really saw a lot of major changes that occurred. It is one of the most activist governments we’ve seen since the Klein Revolution in the mid-'90s.
“Put those pieces together. That was the reason for the book. We met to discuss this in the spring of 2016; we looked at the (upcoming) 2019 election and worked our way back. It was designed to come out before the election.”
While the book features a distinguished roster of contributors from across the province and beyond, much of the expertise and financial support for this enterprise came from Mount Royal University.
Bratt and fellow MRU faculty Keith Brownsey, PhD, professor in policy studies; David Taras, PhD, professor in communications studies and holder of the Ralph Klein chair in media studies; and Richard Sutherland, PhD, associate professor in policy studies, are the book’s editors as well as chapter contributors. There are contributions from many other MRU faculty members as well. Those include Brad Clark, PhD, associate professor and chair of the journalism department; Lori Williams, associate professor in policy studies; Peter Ryan, PhD, assistant professor in public relations; and Gillian Steward, journalism instructor.
One of the book’s major themes, Bratt says, is that the province has changed for good, regardless of who wins the next election.
“When you look at the chapters on women in politics, and when you look at chapters on rural Alberta, and you look at the chapters on Indigenous people, that’s the big message. There is a new Alberta out there and as much as some would like to go back to 1993 or 1973, it ain’t happening.”
The chapter on rural politics, for example, shows Alberta becoming a post-rural province. Under the PCs — particularly Lougheed and Klein — county reeves and town councillors were used as a kind of “farm team for PC caucus members,” Bratt says. “And there were very powerful rural cabinet ministers, whether that was Hugh Horner or Lloyd Snelgrove or an Ed Stelmach.”
“Ironically, after Stelmach became leader you started to see less and less of that, and that just accelerated with Redford and with Prentice, so you don’t see the same clout within the government within rural Alberta.”
The oil industry, of course, is given plenty of attention both for the role it played in keeping the PCs in power so long, and how the oil crash of 2014 and resulting pipeline wars have played such a dominant role in Alberta politics.
“I’ve been (interviewed for) these year-in-review stories and I said it’s been the year of the pipeline. Everything has been about pipelines and the title of Deborah Yedlin’s chapter is, ‘Rachel Notley, the Accidental Pipeline Advocate,’ because in opposition she was not a pipeline advocate. In government she has been, in many different respects,” Bratt says.
Williams details the rise of three women in Alberta politics ― Allison Redford, Danielle Smith and Notley ― and the biases and barriers they faced.
“Redford, Smith, and Notley were each able, at least to some degree, to turn what have historically been liabilities into strengths. They managed to navigate around gendered expectations or use them to their advantage in their rise to leadership, and, in two cases, to government.”
Orange Chinook involved an author’s conference in Banff that brought the editors together with contributors, guest speakers and students who not only helped run the meetings, but got an inside look at how a textbook of this kind is put together. One of those students was Phillip Brownsey, the son of Keith Brownsey and Katherine Brownsey, an art history professor at MRU. Phillip Brownsey passed away in December at the age of 28. The book is dedicated to him.
It concludes with a look ahead at the upcoming provincial election.
“This isn’t just a story about the 2015 election. It’s not just about the NDP government. It's about the changes that are occurring in Alberta. And even if Jason Kenney wins the election — and I think he will — Alberta has still changed, and that may cause some governing problems.”
Jan. 28, 2019 ― Peter Glenn