'Don't give up' in face of right-wing backlash, Alberta NDP urged

Alberta NDP MLAs were urged Sunday not to allow backlash from the right to push them from implementing their agenda.

Labour leader fires up the crowd at convention as delegates approve resolution to modernize labour laws

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley greets supporters at the Alberta NDP convention in Calgary this weekend. (Mike Ridewood/Canadian Press)

Alberta NDP MLAs were urged Sunday not to allow backlash from the right to push them from implementing their agenda.

"Keep it up. Don't lose heart," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, in a speech to the Alberta NDP convention in Calgary.

"Don't lose your nerve in the face of this onslaught of right-wing rhetoric."

McGowan, who ran unsuccessfully for the NDP in the last federal election, told caucus members they've accomplished much during their first year in office. But they have to keep pushing, he said.

"The window for real progressive legislative action is going to remain open for the next two years or so before you have to turn your full attention to the process of organizing your re-election campaign."

McGowan's keynote speech came one day after Premier Rachel Notley delivered a fiery speech to the convention about her government's record.

Afterwards, McGowan told reporters her speech gave him hope.

"I have even more confidence than I had coming in that she will keep her promises and she will continue to embrace the progressive agenda that helped get her government elected," he said.

Premier Rachel Notley chatted with delegates on the floor of the Alberta NDP convention Sunday afternoon. (Scott Dippel/CBC )

Orlando victims mourned

The third and final day of the convention took place as the world was reeling from the news that 50 people were killed in a mass shooting at an Orlando gay club. 

Garett Spelliscy, outgoing chair of the party's LGBTQ caucus, said the news hit him like a "punch in the gut."

Spelliscy said people keep telling him the fight for rights is over now that gay marriage is legal in Canada and the U.S, But the deaths in Orlando make him think differently. 

"Today, it just feels like we haven't moved a damn inch," he said in an emotional address to the convention. "The world has once again revealed itself to be a hateful place. So let's rest awhile, get up tomorrow and fight to make it better."

Support for union first-contract legislation

Delegates at the convention passed a number of resolutions, urging the government to modernize labour laws, introduce public provincial child care and adopt the call-to-action plan from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

A couple of cabinet ministers spoke in favour of updating Alberta's labour laws to include introducing first contract legislation — ensuring employers would have to negotiate a collective agreement or go to arbitration with newly unionized workers. 

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, a former labour lawyer, said frustration with the province's legislation was a reason she ran for office.

Labour Minister Christina Gray told delegates an update of labour legislation is long overdue.

'You renewed me'

The three-day convention wrapped up with closing remarks from deputy premier and Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.

Hoffman reflected on the "exhausting" three-month legislature session, where the government caucus was attacked by the Wildrose and PCs for governing Alberta "like New Democrats."

She commended NDP delegates for "filling my cup."

"You haven't just inspired me. You renewed me," she said.

The conference was the first since the NDP won its first majority government in Alberta in May 2015. 

On Saturday, 97.8 per cent of delegates voted in favour of Notley's leadership. 

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