Workplace safety laws started as an idea. Paid maternity leave started as an idea. Marriage equality started as an idea. A $15 an hour minimum wage started as an idea.

Over the last 20 years in Alberta, the labour movement has become an ideas engine for progressive change in the province.

We’ve fostered new ways of looking at the challenges that the province is facing. We’ve informed the public about the impacts of government decisions. And we’ve built a network of people who were looking for change.  That work will continue. But in the wake of an election that can only be described as historic we have to redouble our efforts, to find new ways to engage the public, to work for progressive change, and to put new ideas forward.

"We cannot be silent and allow right-wing extremists to frame the debate in ways that limit the government’s options to ones that are bad for Albertans."

Within the first month of Alberta’s first new government in 44 years, we are already seeing willingness from Premier Notley to move forward on a few of the ideas that the Alberta Federation of Labour has championed.

Moving the minimum wage closer to a living wage. Reviewing the royalty rates companies pay the province for natural resources. Reversing funding cuts to public services.  These are ideas that were part of the public discussion because progressive organizations  put them on the agenda. These are policies that came from the progressive ideas engine that the Alberta labour movement built. My promise to Albertans is that the Alberta Federation of Labour will
continue to research and advocate for new ideas.

Open opportunity for meaningful dialogue

However, the next four years present a different set of opportunities and challenges than those the labour movement are used to dealing with. For many of us, this is a chance to move from opposition to proposition. Instead of spending our time fighting against attacks on bargaining rights, and defending what pensions exist, we can bring forward new ideas to increase the retirement security of pensioners, to improve the working conditions of our most vulnerable citizens.

We will continue to make these ideas part of the public dialogue. We’ll make our research and evidence public. But there is another job for unions and civil society: we must act as watchdogs. If the government strays from the values that got them elected, or if they turn their backs on the needs everyday working Albertans, it will be the duty of every progressive in the province to help them find their way back. We cannot be silent and allow right-wing extremists to frame the debate in ways that limit the government’s options to ones that are bad for Albertans.

The time to fix labour policy

When the conservatives were in power, right-wing lobby groups didn’t stay quiet. They had ideas and they made noise.
The idea to privatize the electrical grid. The idea to attack pensions. The idea to undermine Canadian workers through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.  Every negative change in the lives of Albertans also started out as an idea.

Koch-Brothers funded groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Association and the Manning Foundation found every excuse to criticize even the slightest progressive measure the Tories put forward. They tried to move the debate from a left-right debate to a right-far right debate, to convince the government to act against the best interests of Albertans.

It was only through collective action, and Albertans standing up for what they knew in their hearts to be right that some of these ideas were halted.

Now that a progressive era in Alberta politics is dawning, the province will need its ideas engine to put options onto the table and to frame the debate. To put forward ideas that give the premier options that are positive for the majority of Albertans.

Over the decades, some of our ideas have come to fruition. More than ever, some of them are on the verge of reality. And our best ideas may yet be to come.