July 20th, 2024

Local NDP allies want Notley remembered for what she accomplished

By COLLIN GALLANT on January 17, 2024.

Rachel Notley prepares to address a crowd at a downtown restaurant in Medicine Hat in May 2023 four days before the general election. The New Democrat Leader announced Tuesday she will step down once a new party leader is chosen.--News File Photo

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

Local New Democrats are lauding their leader, former premier Rachel Notley, who announced Tuesday she will step down once a new leader is chosen.

The NDP fell five seats short of winning back government last May, but they will likely be best remembered for issuing out the Progressive Conservative dynasty with a surprising majority government election win.

Bob Wanner was elected as the MLA for Medicine Hat in that 2015 election – the first time in more than 70 years the city sent a non-conservative candidate to the legislature – and the former city top administrator worked as speaker of the legislative assembly.

“I’m not surprised – she served the people of this province well and worked hard for a long time,” Wanner said Tuesday afternoon following Notley’s announcement. She will stay on until a leadership contest is completed.

Gwendoline Dirk ran for the party in Brooks-Medicine Hat in 2022 and 2023 and said Notley should be remembered for reducing child poverty levels with policy decisions and guiding to province to economic growth during a world recession, not two election losses.

“She’s an inspirational leader,” Dirk said Tuesday. “She didn’t run away, as many would have been tempted to do after 2019 (election loss to the United Conservatives).

“Instead she stayed on and built the party, got more people involved, and in the last election (in 2023) more people voted NDP than ever before.”

That will translate to a spirited and positive leadership contest, said Dirk.

“I think it will be fabulous for the party to have people come forward, get involved and talk about their ideas for the future direction for the party and the province.”

Notley, Alberta’s 17th premier, was generally considered a likeable person in polling throughout her tenure, though was often subject to attacks and scathing criticism by supporters of her opponents.

She endured some criticism from local politicians for not personally visiting the riding until 2016, after more than a year in power. (A scheduled visit in 2015 year was cancelled during the Fort McMurray wildfires).

Wanner said he felt strongly about maintaining the independent nature of the speaker’s role, but with Notley’s support, lobbied for frequent visits by cabinet ministers.

He says those totalled 38 visits in a four-year span during the NDP government’s term.

“It’s a record that I don’t think has been eclipsed since,” he said, noting that between 2015 and 2019 the government made first movement toward an operating funding model for HALO air rescue ambulance.

During the time funds were also channelled to the region for college expansion, the completion of the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital expansion, new schools and modernizations, as well as grants for a municipal berm-building program.

“There were long-term investments that will continue to pay back in this community for years to come,” said Wanner, who admitted that energy policy and farm safety legislation were controversial and likely didn’t win favour.

“There was a long-term perspective and she felt strongly that she had a responsibility to represent all Albertans, not just those who voted for her.”

Wanner, as well, feels the coming leadership contest could prove interesting as the field of quality candidates is much larger thanks to Notley’s guidance and moves to strengthen the party.

“There are some very capable people who’ve had some successes,” he said.

The Brooks-Medicine Hat party association is scheduled to have its annual general meeting this weekend.

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