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What will it take to elect New Democrat Marie Renaud as St. Albert's MLA?

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Marie Renaud

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

Miracles do happen, or something close to them, Marie Renaud said Saturday at a remarkably well-attended Alberta New Democratic Party meeting in St. Albert's community recreation centre.

Renaud -- who was acclaimed as the NDP candidate for the St. Albert riding -- was referring to the inspiring stories of some of the disabled adults she's worked with in her 14 years as executive director of St. Albert’s non-profit LoSeCa Foundation, a community-based organization that employs 150 people, many of them with developmental disabilities.

It may not quite be evidence of a miracle, of course, but something's definitely in the air when close to 50 people show up for an NDP nomination meeting on a Saturday morning in a place that through the past couple of election cycles has been a pretty sure thing for the Tories. There have been days, indeed, when getting a half dozen folks out for an NDP meeting has been considered a major accomplishment.

But if Quebec-born Renaud, 50, manages to get elected here, there will be those who see it as a miracle just the same. In the 2012 general election, Progressive Conservative MLA Stephen Khan won with an unambiguous 54-per-cent majority.

Typically, moreover, while the support for opposition parties combined has sometimes been close to the PC vote, and Liberal Jack Flaherty eked out a 414-vote victory in 2004, the NDP vote has hovered around 1,500 to 2,000 in recent elections.

But some things really are different in 2015, if the PCs go ahead with an early election as widely expected.

For one thing, at the moment the New Democrats seem like the only credible opposition party. The Alberta Liberals, which have traditionally done well in this community with its historically significant French community, are in dire straits, having all but collapsed under the haphazard leadership of the now-almost-departed Raj Sherman. The Wildrose Party faces similar existential troubles, still trying to recover from the defection of 11 of its MLAs to the Tory Party last December.

The Alberta Party has supporters in town, but it's still barely on the radar with most voters, and Tim Osborne, the good candidate it ran last time, now has a nice sinecure on city council. 

So with disillusionment about the PC government still strong, and growing again a little as the honeymoon that followed the coronation of Premier Jim Prentice begins to wane, this may be the best chance for the NDP in St. Albert since 1986, when New Democrat Bryan Strong won the seat and the party became the official Opposition.

St. Albert was still a small town with rural roots in 1986. Nowadays it's an Edmonton bedroom suburb with well over 60,000 residents. Still, as St. Albert NDP constituency association president Andrew Traynor pointed out, some things haven't changed: now as then, Albertans face "a bloated PC government convinced of its own ability to manage Alberta’s economic future, yet having only deficits, broken promises and mismanagement to show for it."

Here we are 29 years later, Traynor observed, Prentice has been parachuted in to save the PCs and "yet he tells us to look in the mirror!"

Khan, the local Tory, is a nice guy. But, really, it's hard to point to many accomplishments on his part since he was elected in 2012.

Then-premier Alison Redford put him in the cabinet as minister of advanced education, then yanked him out 10 months later when she decided a tougher minister was needed to administer "Bitumen Bubble" austerity to post-secondary institutions. Another St. Albert resident, Edmonton-Castle Down MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, got the job.

Khan was a good soldier and didn't pout, and Prentice put him back in one of cabinet's less significant positions, minister of Service Alberta, as part of his effort to promote the idea the province was under new management last year. But now we're back to austerity again, so who knows what will happen?

Khan’s strongest attribute, I've heard it muttered around town, is his ability to do what he's told.

As for Renaud, two years ago she and LoSeCa -- which stands for Love, Service, Care -- were recognized nationally, receiving the Prime Minister's Volunteer Award for Social Innovation for the Prairie Region. Last year she was named one of the top 100 women in business by The Wanderer, the University of Alberta's online journal.

She's active on social media, and not afraid to say what she thinks. She's been frequently heard from in Edmonton media, forcefully advocating for the disabled in the face of PC cuts.

Renaud told yesterday's nomination meeting that she grew interested in running for the NDP when New Democrat Leader Rachel Notley was one of the few politicians to step up and defend disabled Albertans from the PCs’ cuts.

As she said in a recent interview with a local newspaper, "if I stopped every time someone told me something was impossible, I would never do anything."

The same could be said of the rest of us. A miracle's not actually necessary to elect someone like Marie Renaud. Just enough committed voters. Hmmmm….

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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