Alberta NDP convention 'unofficial campaign launch' for governing party

Premier Rachel Notley will be front and centre as more than 1,000 Alberta NDP members gather in Edmonton for the last convention before the election next spring.

Convention will also feature tribute to retiring cabinet minister and former leader Brian Mason

Premier Rachel Notley on the cover of the program for the Alberta NDP's 2018 convention. The caption says "Rachel Notley. Fighting for you." (CBC)

Premier Rachel Notley will be front and centre as more than 1,000 Alberta NDP members gather in Edmonton for what a senior party official is calling an "unofficial campaign launch" prior to next spring's provincial election.

"What we want delegates to feel when they come into this room is an enthusiasm for the great work this government has been doing ... and then leave feeling inspired," provincial secretary Roari Richardson said. "Leave like they're ready to take this message to the streets."

The Alberta NDP holds conventions every two years, with the last one in Calgary in June 2016. This year's convention is expected to attract 1,100 to 1,200 delegates.

Much has changed in Alberta's political landscape since the last convention, with the merger of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties last year that led to the creation of the United Conservative Party.

Jason Kenney is the leader of the official Opposition. The Alberta NDP continues to trail the UCP in the polls.

The focus this weekend will be on Notley as the face of the party. In addition to her keynote speech on Sunday, she is holding a question-and-answer session with members on Saturday.

"We're trying to make sure that as many delegates as possible get to see her and talk to her because she really carries the banner better than any leader that I've been able to work for," Richardson said.

Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd is facing a competitive race next spring. Thanks to a redrawing of boundaries, McCuaig-Boyd is facing another legislature colleague, UCP MLA Todd Loewen in Central Peace-Notley. 

She agrees that this weekend feels like a campaign launch.

"We're all thinking about the next election and positioning ourselves," she said. "It feels like a family reunion coming in. It's just good to see everyone."

Members will also pay tribute to Transportation Minister and Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Brian Mason, who is retiring from provincial politics this spring after 19 years in provincial politics. Mason led the Alberta NDP from 2004 to 2014.

Ontario official Opposition leader Andrea Horwath of the NDP is listed as one of the convention's special guests.

No mandatory high heels on the job

Speeches aren't the only part of the weekend. Delegates will also debate party policy.

Resolutions up for discussion include an end to any mandatory requirements for employees to wear high heels on the job, free tuition for all post-secondary students and medicare coverage of optical and dental procedures.

Other resolutions up for debate include free prescription medication for children and a ban on corporate and union donations to municipal politicians, something already in place at the provincial level.

The party will consider banning conversion therapy in Alberta. NDP backbencher MLA Nicole Goehring is expected to introduce a private member's bill this fall that would ban the widely-discredited and psychologically damaging practice of attempting to change a person's gender identity or sexual orientation. 

Another resolution speaks in favour of setting up a wildland provincial park in the Bighorn area of the Rockies near Nordegg and Rocky Mountain House.

The resolution notes about 25 per cent of tap water in Alberta comes from the North Saskatchewan River, which flows through the region. Off-road vehicle enthusiasts oppose changes to the area's designation as they fear they would be barred from riding inside park boundaries.

Jason Nixon, the UCP MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, has raised concerns in the legislature about inadequate consultation on the issue.

The government isn't bound by any resolutions passed this weekend but can take direction from what members have to say. 

One first-time delegate is lamenting how the party is less likely to take chances now that it's been in government. 

"It's not that power corrupts," said Michael Hughes. "It's more like power subdues.

"Any time you win power it changes the whole dynamic," he added.