Monday, May 02, 2016



Rachel Notley warned New Democrats that adopting the LEAP manifesto which demands the end of oil extraction from the Tar Sands as well as conventional and shale gas plays, and NO pipelines, would put the Eastern arm of the party in direct conflict with a party that is proudly Albertan and directly involved in the oil industry history in the province even more so than the long ruling party the PC’s.

It was the development of oil and energy in Alberta that created new wealth and a new industrial province after WWII. The discovery of oil not only brought the oil industry but also the oil and energy workers union, a small American union that had an arm in Alberta, the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers OCAW. In Alberta it was beginning its organizing of workers in the field and in the new gas and chemical plants being built between Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan.

This was the post war boom, the party in power was Social Credit, and while  there was no NDP there was an active labour political movement housed in the AFL and Edmonton Trades and Labour Council, members belonged to the Communist Party, the CCF and some still belonged to the OBU and IWW.

Edmonton had a history of electing labour council members as Mayor, Aldermen (women), school board trustees and Hospital Board members. Elmer Roper  longtime labour activist, CCF activist and candidate, owner of ABC Printing and publisher of Alberta Labour News would be elected Mayor of Edmonton after the creation of the NDP by the merger of the CCF with the newly created post war Canadian Labour Congress.

The sixties saw the growth of the labour movement in Canada and in Alberta, including the creation of an active movement of organizing public sector workers, provincially, municipally and federally. The Federal Workers Union originating in Calgary would merge with the Ontario based National Workers Union to create what we know as the Canadian Union of Public  Employees, the Civil Service Union of Alberta would become a union known as the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

But throughout the oil boom of the fifties and sixties the union most associated with the provincial NDP was the Oil Chemical and Atomic Energy Workers Union under the leadership of Neil Reimer and his assistant Reg Baskin

That’s right the party was brought to life in Alberta by Oil Workers in the provinces new Energy market. Its first party leader was Neil Reimer, who would meet a charismatic young politician a contemporary of Peter Lougheed and Joe Clark at the University of Alberta, Grant Notley who would go on to become party Leader and its first elected MLA.

Notley himself did not represent Edmonton but his home region, the oil rich north of Alberta, the Grand Prairie, and Peace River riding.

As it had since 1936 the Social Credit party of Alberta held power in the province as a one party state, under the permanent leadership of Premier Ernest Manning, Preston’s daddy.  The New Democratic Party of Alberta focused its energy not only on consolidating union power in the party as well as the voices of the left and progressives but in challenging that Social Credit domination of Alberta Politics.

This was also the time of the Cold War and the Anti Communist Witch Hunts, a time being anti war, anti nuclear war, pro labour, was considered suspect. Where union members who were left wing were exposed to police spying, where padlock laws in Quebec had been used to raid imprison and steal property belonging to those accused of opposing the Duplesis regime or who were suspect of being Reds.

Duplessis ‘s party in Quebec aligned with that provinces Federal Social Credit Party which was aligned with Alberta’s Party as well. In both provinces the left faced one party dictatorship which reminded many despite their democratic trappings of the forces they had been fighting against in WWII.

As in Alberta it would be the post war labour movement in Quebec under Louis Lebarge that would mobilize politically as well as economically against the Old Regime, his right hand was a young activist lawyer named Pierre Eliot Trudeau. And like Alberta they were building a provincial and national party; the Liberals.

This then is the historical basis for the differences between the left in Quebec and the rest of Canada and why it took so long to breech these two solitudes, as was done in 2012 under Jack Layton and the federal NDP.

Premier Rachel Notley, the daughter of Grant Notley, the first NDP MLA ever elected to the Legislature, the first opposition member elected against the Social Credit party of Ernest Manning  had this rich history as her prologue at this week’s national NDP Convention in Edmonton where the party adopted the LEAP manifesto which challenges the very energy economy that makes Alberta a modern industrial state.

This province created the NDP under the leadership of  Neil Reimer, an oil worker and oil union organizer.  Neil was the first leader of the Party, and Reg Baskin was his right hand in their union and the party.

Neil also created the modern Canadian Energy Workers union,  Neil and Reg first represented oil workers in the new industry in the province with the OCAW  oil chemical and atomic workers of Canada, which had one other base of expansion; Louisiana.  He and Reg made it the Canadian Energy Workers Union, which became CEP merging with the Canadian Paper workers unions in BC, and now has consolidated with CAW to create UNIFOR.

Neil’s daughter was Jan Reimer two term Mayor of Edmonton during the 1990’s and while party labels are not used in Edmonton municipal elections everyone knew that we had an NDP mayor.

Meatpackers, a union that disappeared in the eighties with amalgamation of the meat packing industry into a smaller and smaller oligopoly, was a militant base of union workers and activists including communists and socialists, that was a large base for the party, as was Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 488.

These were the post war unions that were the party’s base in Edmonton and across the province. Federally the postal workers were a strong backbone for the Federal Party, though there were two separate unions at that time, letter carriers and inside workers, the latter being more left wing and militant with OBU IWW communist, socialist and Trotskyist activist workers.

It was the discovery of tar sands oil that led to the growth of the province, the union and the NDP. It was also this discovery and its needed development during the Arab Oil Crisis of 1971 that led to the end of the Social Credit government, its movement, but not its essence. In its place came the newest members of the Alberta Legislature elected in 1967 for the first time, the Lougheed Progressive Conservatives. They would be joined by Grant Notley and the NDP in opposition in 1968, when Grant won a by-election in Spirit River.

The “Progressive” element in the Lougheed PC’s represented the post war Liberal base among the non Anglo ethnic communities in Edmonton and Calgary, such as the recent post war immigration of Ukrainians, Italians, Portuguese, Greek, European, Asian, and Displaced Peoples. The Liberals had no political existence in Alberta since they were wiped out by the United Farmers/ Labour Party coalition in 1921.

Even Lougheed’s conservatism was not the neo conservative Austrian school embraced by the republican lite Preston Manning cons of today, it was classical liberal capitalism, that progressive aspect of capitalism that sought to ameliorate through regulation what short comings capitalism itself may suffer from despite its idealism of being the ‘ideal’ system.

The history of the Alberta NDP is the history of the Oil Workers and the Oil Industry in Alberta, even more than it is for the current batch of Conservatives provincial or federal.  The NDP in Alberta grew up with the oil industry with its workers and their union. For the Alberta NDP to reject both the LEAP manifesto and those call for the end of pipelines is natural and should have been expected by those who know the party history in the province.

For those who fail to understand this historic base of the party in Alberta fail to understand the social democratic politics of the oil industry, the NDP has long supported a form of nationalization under public ownership and increased workers control through unionization.

This occurred in the case of Suncor which was the earliest of the oil sands operators, before the Syncrude conglomerate was created.  In the early seventies after the Lougheed government promoted the oil sands, Suncor began mining operations.  Neil Reimer’s new Canadian Energy and Paperworkers union, CEP, got its birth in a long and bitter historic strike at the Suncor operations.

CEP went on to organize refineries in Edmonton, Sherwood Park and Fort Saskatchewan.
It tried but failed to organize Syncrude due to its conglomerate ownership and its concerted anti union efforts over the decade of the seventies into the eighties. Today unionized Suncor has bought out Syncrude so this situation opens it up to unionization decades later.

The seventies and eighties saw massive growth in the province including growth in both private and public union membership.

This also saw the success of the NDP and the left in Edmonton. While Grant Notley was a lone NDP member in Alberta Legislature, Edmonton saw a left wing U of A Prof David Leadbeater elected alderman.  Notley was joined in the house by Ray Martin, from Edmonton.
The NDP elected Ross Harvey its first federal MP from Alberta in the eighties from the old packing plant and union district of Edmonton Beverly. This was at the height of the Arab Oil Crisis of early eighties, which the Conservatives in Calgary blamed on the NDP Liberal National Energy Plan, NEP, which included the creation of the Canadian Publicly Owned Oil and Gas Company PetroCanada.

PetroCanada was a success and saved Calgary and the Lougheed Government during this oil crisis, it was able to buy up, nationalize, American oil companies like Gulf Mobile, Texaco, Chevron,  as well as smaller Canadian and American oil companies that were going broke or bailing out of Calgary heading back to Dallas and Huston.

And CEP was there to unionize it. Today PetroCanada is no more the Liberals privatized during the Austerity crisis of the Nineties, and Paul Martins Liberal Government sold off the last of our shares prior to the 2006 election.

Ironically it is Suncor that bought them and then bought up PetroCan and absorbed it., just as it has done with its competitor Syncrude.

It would be during the late eighties and early nineties that under Ray Martin the NDP would gain a record number of seats, going from 2 to 23 and status of official opposition. But by the time of the middle of nineties and the Austerity panic of debt and deficit hysteria and the birth of the neo conservative movement that two city Mayors, Ralph Klein of Calgary and Lawrence Decore of Edmonton would battle it out for Premier of the Province, Klein for the PC’s and Decore for the Liberals. Both ran on Austerity budgets, one promised massive cuts the other brutal cuts. It was a close election the losers were the NDP who were wiped out as a third party.

In Edmonton we had a new NDP mayor to replace Decore, Neil’s daughter Jan Reimer, joined by another leftist alderman the bus driver Brian Mason. The NDP centred itself in Edmonton at this time and got elected the enormously popular  team of Pam Barrett and Raj Pannu.
The CEP was critical in supporting the NDP at this time, including having its past president Reg Basking become leader of the Party.

After the shocking early death of party leader Pam Barrett, former alderman Brian Mason ran in her riding, Highlands, which also covers the Federal riding of Beverly that Ross Harvey once represented and won her seat in the house. Raj Pannu became the first Indo Canadian leader of an NDP party in Canada.  After he stepped down Brian Mason became the leader of the party.
The party went from four seats to two to four until Brian stepped down and the party elected Grant Notley’s daughter, Rachel Notley, who had sat in the house with Brian through all those ups and downs in electoral success.

The party base is the labour movement and left across the province and no less important unions such as CEP, IBEW, Carpenters and UA488 all involved in the oil sands and the petrochemical industry in Alberta.

So why are the various wags and pundits surprised when the Alberta NDP does not LEAP off the edge of a cliff named STOP PIPELINES, STOP DIRTY OIL.

In the finest of social democratic traditions, the Alberta NDP will do no such thing nor should it be expected to. It will ameliorate the worst of the environmental damages that the fossil fuel industry has and can be expected to cause. They will create a green plan, and expand the carbon fuel tax the PC’s brought in.

 It will do what the conservatives would not do, and that is eliminating Alberta’s Socred PC dirty energy economic backbone: coal. And that is the real dirty energy in Alberta, coal fired utility plants. These plants are evenly divided between private ownership, with state support from the ruling Socreds and PC’s, TransAlta Utilities, and publicly owned municipal utilities EPCOR and ENMAX. TransAlta is the original P3 funded by taxpayers under the Socred and spun off to become a private company where government cabinet members retire to the board of.

Even Lougheed was tied to the coal industry representing his old employer Mannix Inc, as a board member of Luscar Coal, which during the nineties created a major controversy with its efforts to mine outside of Jasper National Park.

Contrary to Greenpeace and other environmentalists who claim oil sands are the dirtiest energy the real dirty energy on the Palliser Plains of Alberta and Saskatchewan is coal.

Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel that needs to be kept in the ground. There is no such thing as clean coal!

There is however clean petrochemical fuels, that is the nature of refining, creating finer and finer grades of hydrocarbons; ethenes, benzenes, oil and gas for plastic production, diesel etc.
That is the reason for both the Joffre and Scotford massive refining projects and the plan for the heartland refining project, which would allow the province to crack and refine bitumen into secondary and tertiary hydrocarbons.

That is what the future of the energy is in Alberta, stopping the use of coal, refining hydrocarbons and shipping them south, east, and west.

Why would the NDP limit the provinces ability to ship what it processes.

As I have pointed out the pipeline west will probably go through the Peace River Athabasca highway route to Prince Rupert, which coincides with BC Site C dam development and its LNG  pipeline development, giving pipeline companies an alternative to going to Kitimat via the BC Sacred Bear Rainforest.

Energy East will be built and the NDP will promote as it did in the eighties, the idea that Alberta energy for a fair price should go east. What occurred instead was it was shipped to refineris in Ontario and Quebec at discounted prices where it was refined and sold to the US while oil was imported from the Middle East.

This was the original idea of the NEP that the NDP and Liberals promoted to Lougheed, and he agreed to! And like the NDP this was his vision for Alberta oil before he died.
While the LEAP manifesto is suitably left wing green etc, even shudder, anti capitalist ( read anti corporations) it is not something either the labour movement or NDP in Alberta will agree to do much more about than debate. Debate will be welcome, dictat not so much.

LEAP like most environmentalism today fails to take into consideration that even if workers had control of publicly owned energy companies, we would still be producing hydrocarbons, and will be even after the glorious Socialist Revolution.

The dirtiest energy causing climate change is not oil sands in Alberta or Venezuela it is coal and wood burning worldwide.  That is the challenge we face to shut down coal, and wood burning, not to accept the myth of Clean Coal, and to make sure we ameliorate environmental damage caused through hydrocarbon production.

You want to keep something in the ground its coal, and the biggest fight back in Alberta today is the utility lobbies who oppose the Alberta NDP Government ending of coal fired utilities.

In Alberta the NDP is the party of oil and oil workers. Never forget it. The old Social Credit of Preston Manning’s daddy’s day and the PC’s of Lougheed Klein were both parties of coal.


Obsessive compulsive said...

An excellently written analysis Eugene. I remember being a part of some of the activities at a number of points in the narrative, even to the point of being photographed by police talking to NDP candidate at a rally in Sir Winston Churchill Square, then later talking to a former RCMP who balked at being designated to infiltrate the ND constituency association now represented by Rachel. I kid you not. There was an element of McCarthyism in Alberta that does persist in some areas.

Eugene Plawiuk said...