The Beginning Becomes Most Important

A few catch-up notes related to my recent comment on the Rachel Notley and the NDP election triumph in Alberta.

Forgot to mention that I knew her dad Grant Notley in the days when he was one of the active young people preparing the political soil of western Canada for the replanting of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) as the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Alberta. He was a teenager at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, when in 1957-58 he joined what became known as “Notley’s Motley Crew”, a re-activated  campus squad of  CCF supporters. Among his young political rivals on campus were Joe Clark (PC) and Jim Coutts (Lib).

By 1961 he had moved from campus to join the province-wide organizing push to change CCF to NDP. That goal was achieved in January 1962 with the election of Neil Reimer as president of the fledging organization and Grant the provincial secretary. It was in the late fall of 1962 when I joined the Edmonton Journal as acting city editor and first met the intense but unfailingly polite NDP activist who eventually became party leader in 1968. Those were the days when NDP members walked through audiences listening to a Notley speech “passing the hat” for funds to meet expenses.

In 1971, after repeated defeats at the polls, he was elected NDP-MLA for Spirit River, a lone voice in opposition but respected by other politicians and by media for his rational, constant, arguments for expansion and improvement of social services. His daughter Rachel Anne was eight years old at the time, the first of three children born to Grant and Sandra (Sandy) Mary Wilkinson following their marriage in 1963.

American born “Sandy” may not have generated headlines the way her husband did, but in the family she was a character builder, the one who wove Christian principles into NDP beliefs. It was she who explained to Rachel and her brothers Paul and Stephen the social conscience of their father’s politics.

And it was her mother Rachel mentioned first in her gracious victory speech: “I know my mother would be completely over the moon about this”, she told her cheering supporters. I think my dad would be too. I’m sorry he couldn’t see this, this really was his life’s work.”

Grant Notley died in a poor weather plane crash in 1984 – two years before the NDP sent its first shock waves through Alberta by electing 16 MLAs in the 1986 general election. New Democrats held those 16 seats through the 1989 election – but lost them all and their leader Ray Martin who had replaced Notley in 1984.

The NDP was back to square one, the Conservatives settled back into their comfortable pew. And Rachel Anne Notley, 20 when she lost her father, 34 when she lost her mother in 1998, but well schooled and firm in her belief in the values they had taught began the long march back from two seats in the early 90’s to a 53 seat victory and the right to govern in 2015.

In the process she sent Jim Prentice, the former premier and leader of the long ruling Conservatives, running for the hills. Within hours of the polls closing Prentice had resigned as leader – a traditional move for a defeated premier – and shamelessly abandoned the individual seat his constituents had just won for him.

The campaign isn’t over for now mother of two, Premier Rachel Anne Notley, 51. She has a public service, becalmed these many years in Conservative complacency, to win over, and a politically naive crew of MLAs to make sure the ship of state doesn’t stray widely off course.

And all those clear-cut black and white decisions most new democrats declare easy of solution are about to become murky, grey areas, hard to define, difficult to answer with a yes or no.

The lady is about to venture into most difficult waters. I wish her well and hope she never forgets her Plato: “The beginning is the most important part of the work.’

One comment

  1. Some interesting history Jim. I joined The Journal in 1963 but only got to know Joe Clark.

    Notley’s biggest problem will be forming a government with a group of novices.

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