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The Main — September 21: Community or looking Cool on Twitter?
A chance to clarify the purpose of organizing was recently lost in a sea of defensiveness. So, what's a slate, anyway?
To slate or not to slate?
At the beginning of the 2021 municipal election a lot of people, the co-editors of this newsletter included, kept hearing about United Conservative Party plans to run conservative slates — or candidates linked by ideology, party or platform — in multiple cities. People responded on social media that they didn’t want to see partisan politics at the local level. But to the surprise of some, the organizing was largely occurring in the camp at the other side of the political spectrum, although not exclusively.
Recently, that organizing was reported on by the Edmonton Journal.
Navjot Kaur, who’s running for the Edmonton Public School board, and is also a longtime community organizer, has been a member of the Alberta New Democratic Party since 2016. She co-founded Courage Coalition and is also on the board for Friends of Public Services. Kaur has ties to the labour movement, which has endorsed her for her municipal run. She’s also been previously endorsed by NDP MLAs Rod Loyola and Shannon Phillips.
Kaur believes progressives missed an opportunity to talk about the benefits of working together when emails detailing meetings of local progressives to strategize for the 2021 municipal election in Edmonton were leaked to the Journal. The emails went to about one hundred people. An opinion piece followed, which argued partisan politics should have no place at the municipal level.
Kaur, who was included in the emails — which Rage also obtained — doesn’t agree with the characterization of progressive organizing as a slate. She says a slate would mean a pooling of resources.
“That is not something I can say is being done in any way, shape or form.”
Kaur says she was surprised at the discussion that followed the Journal story.
“I was disappointed at the public reaction to the article — we should be speaking very openly as progressives about how we are going to support each other because the tide is running in the opposite direction. It is really key to our survival,” Kaur says. “The frustrating thing for me right now is that, for my campaign, now it is very local, all racialized women, and none of them has had the opportunity to run a campaign in a meaningful way that reflects their values.”
Kaur thinks this is due to a lack of attention being paid to women of colour in the Alberta progressive movement. She thinks the solution could be people with large platforms using them to lift up different voices.
“I would love if there was an organized way that I could get some mentorship,” she says.
Kaur says even progressive groups and organizations that tout themselves as progressive or intersectional still have barriers and in-groups. “I consider it white supremacy in organizing across whatever political field.
“I feel like progressives tend to believe that they are the perpetual underdog and if you call us out, you are ruining the cause.”
She adds that anyone upset with this should focus their energy on volunteering on her campaign.
For this story, Rage also reached out to Kirsten Goa, who’s running in Ward papastew, and Ashley Salvador, running in Ward Métis. The Journal spoke with both of these candidates as people who said they were asked not to run or asked to run in a nomination process
Salvador did not respond to requests for comment; Goa complimented our work to bring diverse voices to independent media but declined to be interviewed.
Says Goa, when she refused to comment further: “There isn’t really a way for this to help with our focus right now. At some point, I’ll be prepared to tell the story but right now I need to be reaching voters on the ground.”
Whether slates occur in Alberta’s municipal elections or not seems to be a topic of debate. In 2017, political blogger David Climenhaga wrote about St. Albert mayoral candidates Cathy Heron and Cam MacKay passing out campaign literature together and organizing on the basis of shared opposition to a new library branch opening. He wrote, “If it walks like a slate and it quacks like a slate, it probably is a slate.”
The deciding factor on what counts as a slate, or attempted slate, seems to be whether or not you think it is to your advantage.
People who are politically involved may run for various levels of government. You see familiar names cropping up on election signs. For example, Kerry Diotte was a city councillor and now may or may not be (vote count is still happening) a current Edmonton member of parliament. Edmonton Coun. Aaron Paquette ran for the NDP in 2015.
Jocelyn Johnson, the lead organizer for the progressive meetings, began getting people together on an email list in April. The list includes candidates, labour organizers as well as prominent NDP MLA Sarah Hoffman and leader Rachel Notley’s husband, Lou Arab. It also includes academics, writers and political podcasters.
Hoffman denied any involvement in the meetings to the Edmonton Journal but at least one person close to the Goa campaign, who would only speak to Rage on background, says she was present and spoke at the first meeting. Rage posed this to Hoffman who did not respond to our request for clarification.
Edmonton Coun. Michael Walters says there have been attempts to run municipal slates with partisan affiliations for years. He says whatever side of the political spectrum you’re on, slates are bad for governance at the local level.
“The whole partisan slate-structured approach doesn’t really work for the municipal government because, constitutionally, we don’t have a lot of authority anyhow, so the influence would run downhill.”
Walters says that even if you try to disconnect political organizing from higher orders of government, where partisan politics exist, you’re still going to see the same people involved. He says the issue with that kind of partisan involvement is that it doesn’t help municipal government. He points to housing as an example. “The same efforts we [Edmonton City Council] have made with the UCP to fund affordable housing, to no avail, we made with the [former] NDP [government] to no avail. Power is a one-way street, and a slate puts the power in the hands of partisans at the provincial level over the things that municipalities have control over now … the provincial leader essentially becomes the leader of that municipal slate,” Walters says.
In 2019, the federal Liberal and Alberta NDP governments of the time announced $678-million over ten years for housing in Alberta. The money was to be invested "to protect, renew and expand social and community housing," the two levels of government said in a news release. At that time Walters said that what amounted to $67 million a year for the entire province was not enough to address Edmonton’s needs.
When we are talking about slates, we’re also talking about a sort of political shorthand for ideas. Ideas that may be conservative, liberal, or leftist. Whether or not slates are good is a matter of opinion, and there are a lot of opinions, but Albertans will feel most comfortable with groups who are open and honest with what they are doing.
Photos adapted from original headshots
Nav Kaur by Reakash Walters