David Pink is National Vice President of Australian Young Labor
The last time Labor took power in Australia, it set out on an approach to governing focused on moderation and incremental change. There were big achievements, but the point was to stretch them out over a number of electoral cycles so that we could avoid scaring the electorate and prove that we were competent at governing.
Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government in the Canadian province of Alberta suggests a different approach: pushing through your entire policy platform in a single term, with a view to introducing lasting and irreversible change that is so popular no government can afford to scale it back.
The New Democratic Party of Canada is what the ALP would look like if didn’t have a right wing dragging it down. The NDP is a union-run labour party just like ours, but it is unashamedly progressive on social issues and relentlessly in favour of expanding the welfare state through taxing the rich.
Alberta is Canada’s Texas. It’s an economy where everything revolves around oil, and until 2015 it had been ruled by right-wing conservatives for 79 years. The NDP were never meant to win in Alberta, but in 2015 they took advantage of a corruption scandal to win a shock victory – ousting the conservatives and forming a majority government in the single-chamber Alberta Parliament.
In just two years, Alberta has moved from being the free market haven of Canada into being a Nordic-style social democracy.
Some examples of policies the Alberta NDP introduced in this time include:
- The minimum wage has gone from the lowest in the country, to the highest in North America at $15 – a 50% pay rise for a fifth of Alberta’s workers.
- Legalising closed union shops after a card check.
- Increasing income tax by 50% on Albertans who earn over $300,000 a year.
- Legalising secondary boycotts and restoring the right to strike.
- Eliminating the distinction between contractors and employees in labour law.
- 52 weeks paid maternity leave.
- Banning political donations from corporations.
- Domestic violence leave.
- Compulsory arbitration of collective bargaining disputes.
- Universal $25/day publicly-run childcare.
- A state surplus corporate income tax of 12%.
- Imposing a super-profits tax on oil sand miners.
- Going from the carbon capital of Canada to the province with the most extensive carbon tax.
- Freezing university tuition fees.
- A lump-sum fatality benefit of $90,772.20 for a worker killed on the job.
- Price capping electricity.
- Mass construction of solar farms to make Alberta non-reliant on coal power in 10 years.
Everyday life in Alberta has changed completely in a very short time, but there is no sign that this has provoked voter backlash. The NDP will almost certainly lose government at the next election (due to the merger of the two main right-wing parties in the province). But its legacy will be turning Alberta into a social democracy, where its policies have become so popular they can never be reversed by a conservative government.
What if the 6 years of the Gillard-Rudd government had instead been 3 years of transformative social change? Would it have been worth it?