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Alberta election

Nellie McClung, were you watching?

By Carolyn Pogue

Last night, I walked to the Arrata Centre in downtown Calgary for the NDP celebration  — before the party won its first majority government in Alberta. New leaves danced in the breeze; I wondered if the winds of change were really ready to blow.  

Others can comment on political strategies and the sudden departure of our Conservative premier; I was focused on other parts of the story.

As results came in, I noticed a child standing with her mom amongst all the happy adults. She wore bedroom slippers and pyjamas in case of sudden sleepiness. But this grade three student seemed far from sleep, buoyed by the excitement and noise around her. She told me that she was there because “this was important.” I said that I was there because I want kids to be safe and healthy. “Are there any kids at your school who don’t have lunch?” I asked. “There are always kids without lunch,” she said. “They can get an emergency lunch, but it’s not enough."

When it looked like an Alberta miracle was in the making, I glanced at three people nearby: Julie Hrdlicka, Jon Chan and Bill Phipps. All have run for the NDP, raising issues and entering debates, as well as challenging policies they believe create division and inequality. None of them won, but in my mind, they all tilled the soil for the moment of change that came last night. Maybe miracles are all like that.

Carolyn Pogue outside of a Calgary polling station. Photo by Bill Phipps
Carolyn Pogue outside of a Calgary polling station. Photo by Bill Phipps

Everyone who knows me is aware that I’ve helped to raise awareness about the appalling rate of child poverty. The latest Alberta count is 143,200 children below the poverty line. Too many of these are without nutritious lunches, using food banks and homeless. Liberal leader Dr. David Swann (the medical officer fired by the Ralph Klein Conservatives for favouring the Kyoto Accord) has been a champion for children throughout his terms in office and has supported our Child Wellbeing work. David, a member of Calgary's Scarboro United Church, is recognized for his decency and cooperative nature. His speech was cheered by the NDP last night. Joe Ceci, one of 15 NDP members elected in Calgary is a former social worker, city councillor and anti-poverty activist. He too, has been a constant source of encouragement and inspiration. And the province's newly elected premier, Rachel Notley, just a few months ago said that hungry school children must be fed. For the first time, I feel optimistic that Alberta is on the edge of making real change for children.

Behind the huge screen on which we watched the returns and speeches last night was a wall of beautiful organ pipes. Arrata Centre, built in 1906 and now occupied by the Calgary Opera Company, was once Wesley United Church. This was suffragist Nellie McClung’s home congregation. As the celebration swirled around me, I imagined our foremother listening to hymns of hope, lament and celebration from these pipes. I pictured her praying for patience, wisdom and strength, and for the dignity of all women, as she and other members of The Famous Five worked to have women recognized as “persons under the law.” I think she must have been watching over us.

And maybe someone else, too. Lady Wisdom in the Bible is also known as Sophia. The child I asked about school lunches is named Sophia. How beautiful that a girl named Wisdom was with us last night, too. If I were writing a novel, I couldn’t have made up a better name for her — or a better celebration in an old church.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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