Thoughts on the Alberta Party & Alberta politics

Alberta-Party-logoPolitics in Alberta, it seems, is a blood sport especially when one feels their turf is threatened.

With the reigning Conservatives on the ropes in terms of their approval ratings, the Wildrose Alliance has seen support rise for its party. It seems like a natural thing, since they both occupy similar real estate in the political spectrum.

The Conservatives are especially defensive after the defection of two MLAs to the Wildrose Alliance. This defensiveness apparently has spread to the Wildrose Alliance now that the Alberta Party has merged with the Renew Alberta movement

The Wildrose Alliance has the attack dogs out on the Alberta Party questioning a number of things such as the party apparently suspending its constitution as a result of the merger, appointment of board members, etc.

I had to laugh at Jane Morgan’s claim:

“Sorry to disappoint the WAP detractors; but the WAP has absolutely ZERO to do with this. It’s just lil’ol me typing away on an otherwise boring weekend; trying to get to the bottom of some very bizarre switch-a-roos.”

Using someone else to do your political dirty work, paid or unpaid, is a political tactic as old as the hills and helps politicians maintain plausible deniability. I get the impression Ms. Morgan is now a former party official, though I do not know what role she played in the WAP.

I understand what they’re doing. They’re hoping to frame the debate about the Alberta Party as one that is acting illegitimately, in violation of its constitution and without the support of its members.

The Alberta Party could potentially siphon off support from every party as Alberta voters don’t seem to be satisfied with any party at this point. No surprise that the WAP sees the AP as a threat. WAP would like to be the protest party of choice for Albertans. Having two out there muddies the already very murky political waters.

My view of the Alberta Party

Anyone who knows me, knows I have some strong views on politics and I’m suspicious of political parties in general.

I am interested in what is happening with the Alberta Party and may yet participate in their “Big Listen.” Will I vote for them? I can’t say at this point. It really depends on a number of factors.

I think it’s fair to raise questions about the party’s constitution and how that was handled. Political parties do need to ensure they operate according to the rules they’ve laid out for themselves and to ensure they’re in compliance with any government legislation.

Alberta-Party-Big-ListenI would also like to see what policies develop out of the “Big Listen” process and subsequently at any policy convention. I’m not worried, as some anonymous poster is, that the “Big Listen” is similar language used by Hillary Clinton; oh, and also that poster was concerned about “starting conversations.”

So, Democratic party leadership candidates have a monopoly on listening and starting conversations? Does using similar language mean that you have the same policies? Please. Pull your head out of your ass and start listening. Hell, start a conversation while you’re at it.

A key issue for me is the autonomy of party MLAs and party discipline. I believe in free votes on everything.

Political parties should not impose their will on duly elected MLAs. An MLA should always be free to vote according to their conscience and the will of their local electorate. I don’t believe in small- or large-scale authoritarianism. This is one of my main problems with virtually every political party.

I don’t tend to be a labeler and bristle at attempts to label me. I like ideas from across the political spectrum and, really, I am a centrist if you’d like to use the term. Frankly labeling is an overused American political tactic to short-circuit critical thinking. Many Canadian political parties are importing this tactic. Why? I guess their critical thinking skills have been short-circuited. Judging by the political situation in the US and how well everything is going there, do we really need ANY political tactics or policies imported from there?

Open finances

Another concern of mine is that the Alberta Party’s finances be completely open and transparent. That goes for political campaigns as well as leadership campaigns. I have some serious concerns about WAP leader Danielle Smith hiding her leadership campaign supporters and donations from public scrutiny. What does she have to hide?

Furthermore, how can the WAP leader have a party policy of an “open and comprehensive Freedom of Information Act” as well as wanting to “institute strict conflict of interest guidelines facilitated through the Provincial Ethics Commissioner’s office” yet not have her leadership campaign fully open to public scrutiny?

It seems more politics as usual. Money talks and I wonder what money is talking to Danielle Smith? I can bet I know. It’s the same money that talks to everyone in politics in Alberta. That concerns me.

The energy lobby in Alberta is obviously tremendously powerful. We need governments that are transparent, open and not unduly influenced by any lobby. We need a government that implements policies that are in the best interests of Albertans as a whole and do not cater to any lobby.

The citizens of Alberta elect governments, not businesses. That’s not to say that business is not important. It’s not a dichotomy. A balanced approach is appropriate. I’ve been a Chamber of Commerce director and I am fully aware of the needs of small business. I also know that governments tend to focus more on the needs of large business, typically at the expense of small business.

I also believe in a balanced regulatory approach between government and business. The economic meltdown we’re still in is proof that there has to be regulation of business. Business operating without regulation is, quite simply, stupid. Government’s role is to look out for the public interest. Laws and enforcement of those laws is how we keep things fair for everyone.

The supposed architect of the boom and bust, Alan Greenspan, a noted Ayn Rand sycophant, admitted he was wrong about essentially letting business regulate itself. How is it that some could claim one group, government, can’t sufficiently look after the public interest, yet put blind faith in business to do the same? It’s either stupidity, willful ignorance or outright duplicity.

Looking to Alberta’s future

Unfortunately, Alberta governments really haven’t looked that far into the future, looking more towards the next election and staying in power. We need governments that are looking generations ahead. We haven’t had it here. In fact, most governments operate much like large corporations, by the quarter, it seems. Maybe it would pay for Alberta governments to think of Alberta citizens as shareholders? We do have all the voting rights and should be the ones collecting the dividends.

This short-term thinking has to stop. We are facing serious issues on this planet, and while the Alberta government, whatever its political stripe, isn’t going to solve them, it can play a role in not making those problems worse and also look after the interests of Albertans.

These are just some of the things I will be looking at in the Alberta Party. I’ll give them a fair shot, like I have with every other political party. For now I am willing to engage in the listening and conversation, and so should every Albertan because the discussion transcends just one political party.

Published by

Alain Saffel

If I were to picture my ideal life, I’d be sitting in some far off land, sipping a coffee in a café, my backpack at my side, camera around my neck, motorcycle at the curb, pondering my next stop or maybe madly typing away on my laptop about my latest adventure.

19 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Alberta Party & Alberta politics”

  1. I’m not sure there is anything that you have said or suggested, that I can disagree with. I find the double standards that the WRA have been doing, to be very distasteful, not only in the explicit issue reguarding finances and supporters, but also the “we don’t want floor crossers” and then not only accept them but then start soliciting others to do the same thing. If you can’t trust someone out of the box, how the heck can you possibly consider trusting them in the future?

    With respect to free votes… This simply MUST be the way things happen. Some will argue that the government may do things that simply must pass. I will argue that IF the government does things the right way, there should never BE the need to NOT have a free vote. This will force those in power to do things the right way (communication and openness IS the key here) and stop hiding behind some other reason(s) for having to ‘force’ a vote that is not of free choice. It will also empower the people, in knowing they CAN talk to their MP and they WILL be listened to. If you can not ensure that your voice will be heard, then why even bother to speak… and that simply MUST change.

    The other HUGE issue I have is the proverbial “red tape” of the system, and the way that things are run. Take Question Period for example. If you take the time to watch, more often than not you see little kids acting like bullies, and not providing respectable answers to questions. I for one am getting extremely sick and tired of this, and it must stop!

    And WHY… WHY IS IT… that only the current government has all of the right ideas? I have seen some extremely intelligent ideas presented by other parties, and they essentially get smacked in the face. I am now at the point where I am demanding that other good ideas get listened to, and listened to with the respect that they deserve from the other parties. I WANT to hear “dang Bill/Joe/John/Sam thats an exceptional idea, lets make arrangements and sit down and see how we can implement that as soon as possible”.

    I hope the new “Alberta Party” can do these things, and more. If they can, they will not only have my respect, and my vote… but I could even consider joining them to run for office as well. It is time for the people to be heard.

    Gary McCallum
    IT Director
    Alberta Common Sense Society

    1. No matter what party forms the next government it will be interesting to see how what they say during the run up to the election changes when they get into government. A good party won’t change. A corrupt party will find ways to weasel around its principles and focus on keeping itself in government.

  2. The Big Listen is going to be one set of conversations that are very important. There is another conversation that has already started about citizenship and citizen engagement and the future of Alberta. It is happening at http://www.rebootalberta.org. You should think seriously of joining in that conversation of progressive Albertans this weekend Feb 26-28 in K-country. You can register and get a room on the Reboot Alberta web site. Hotel rooms are filling up fast so make sure you have a place to stay.

      1. You can follow Reboot2.0 on Twitter using #rebootab and also leave comments on http://www.rebootalberta.org. We are runing the Twitter scroll for #rebootab live on a screen at Reboot2.0. Lots of Twitterati and Bloggers coming to Reboot2.0 so expect lots of interactive online participation just like at Reboot’s launch

  3. I feel I must respond as I am the author of the Hillary comment. My criticism of both the Alberta Party, Renew Alberta and “The Big Listen” has nothing to do with policy, but the mechanics of building a party.

    As Dave Cournoyer stated on his post about breakfast with some of the Alberta Party people is that the objective of this campaign is to “start a dialogue with Albertans” to formulate policy. That a key objective for them is to not build the mechanics of their party. I feel this is a significant strategic error.

    The Alberta Party without policy is in a great position to sell memberships with the promise of building a legitimate alternative to the current parties. It can sell itself as ‘a party members can build from the ground up’. This is a huge advantage that they are just throwing away.

    I also believe that a constant assumption of politicos is that the public wants to be listened to. I think the public wants clear leadership and a clear alternative. Listening is not a thing to sell, it is something you do.

    The Hillary example I think shows this. Obama crafted a message around change, not about listening. He was clear that he would listen to Americans, but that change was the driver, not his ability to listen.

    I also believe that parties and candidates that ‘listen’ too much, appear populist, not driven by principle and vacuous.

    If I was involved in the discussions for this faux-merger, I would stress core values (that are not framed using government-speak, but plain-language) as the foundation of the new party. Begin attracting people to the party on the basis that share those values and that they can build this from the ground up. This enables members to take leadership and ownership of this organization. Then I would look a policy making.

    So, in sum, my criticism is rooted in messaging and strategic priorities for the organization which makes me question their ability to be legitimate.

  4. Hi Colin,

    I appreciate your comments on my post.

    What the best strategy is, who knows? I will take issue with your statement that the public are more interested in leadership & a clear alternative than being listened to. I think that not being listened to is precisely the problem we have today, provincially and nationally.

    Canadians want a strong health care system and to have an EI system that is there when they need it, as a couple of examples. There are many others, and these things cut across party lines. Gay marriage is another thing Canadians don’t have a problem with, generally.

    Senate reform just isn’t on their radar, but parties would know this if they listened. Canadians also aren’t interested in secret international deals. Canadians do want input. We also don’t want special treatment for multinational companies and we want fair trade deals and dealings with our neighbours.

    We’re not getting that because parties in power aren’t listening. We don’t want things like Bill 44 or Bill 50. If the Alberta government thinks it necessary to spend up to $20 billion of taxpayer money with no consultation, it’s got another thing coming.

    Not only is it important for political parties to listen, but they also must act on the concerns of citizens, not just lobbyists and those who sponsor their political campaigns.

    You could hardly call our current crop of politicians populist, by your definition of listening. Instead, they’re arrogant and have a holier than thou attitude. Look at Lindsay Blackett’s attitude after the Bill 44 debate.

    I agree with using plain language and saying what you mean and meaning what you say. It’s a rare quality in politics these days. I’m sick of weasel politicians that don’t stand up for what they believe. I may not agree with them, but I can at least respect them for standing up for their values. Our current crop of MLAs seems more concerned with keeping hold of power and are willing to do so at the expense of their values and beliefs. Albertans are sick of this attitude and we can see that in Ed Stelmach’s poll numbers and voter turnout in the last election.

    Structure and ideas are both important in building a political party. I don’t view listening to constituents in any way as being negative. I would have some serious worries about a party with no policy essentially having a blank cheque to govern as it sees fit. That’s akin to a monarchy, and it’s no surprise that the Conservatives have that attitude. Wasn’t it Ralph Klein that went by King Ralph? The epitome of arrogance.

    As for Obama, I know that his message was about change. I don’t mind change, but I damn well want to know what that change is.

    I don’t think you and I are that far apart here, but we’re just looking at it from different perspectives.

    Thanks again!
    Alain

    1. I hear what you are saying, however, I think we are both making assumptions about what citizens want. Of course, citizens want politicians to listen, but I do not think the lack of listening is the impetus to take action for change.

      When citizens sense injustice, I believe that is their driver. Not that a politician is not listening.

      Therecent happenings in the US is a great example. After eight years of Bush, Americans came to a decision that significant change was needed. Obama was clearly speaking what people wanted and bet that his message would resonate. The key was that he had always been listening and translated it into action via means for citizens to get involved. Listening was not a campaign or some unique activity, it was something he just did and he did not need to make a big deal of the fact he listens.

      The other key was that the public wanted to hear a different voice. Clearly Alberta wants the same with the rise of the WAP.

      Another concern is that the people involved in Renew and the Alberta Party are right now disenfranchised with their previous parties. So they seem to me to be insiders and may not be as connected to the 60% of Albertans who did not vote. They may want to be, but parties have a tendancy to create bubbles around members, the so called ‘drinkng the kool-aid’ effect. My sense is that this heavy emphasis on citizen engagement for the sake of engagement is becoming the kool-aid and i do not believe that is what people are looking for.

      I think any electorate can be expanded, but it requires a different approach, by first building a different and open party. I’m not sure that the Alberta Party has positioned itself in that manner.

      I also think that people care far less about policy per se, but that the actions and character of leaders reflect their sensibilities. If those are event, then I think policy matters more.

      Anyways, good discussion. Hope I’ve pulled my head out of my ass :-P

    2. The Citizen’s Values conjoint survey Reboot Alberta just did amongst progressives in Alberta showed overwhelmingly that they do not feel that governments are listening to people nor do the opinions of citiznes have much sway in the power and policy making in the province.

      Listening means conversations which leads to better understanding and respect and information about what is bothering people and what they see as needing policy attention.

      I will be doing a blog post on some of the survey results before Reboot2.0 and a major presentation on the results and some analysis of the political and governance implications for the province at Reboot2.0

      1. I hate to be Mr. Obvious but,

        Is it really surprising that progressives do not feel that a conservative gov’t is not listening to them?

        Again, what is the overall strategy? What is the end game?

        1. Colin, it’s not just progressives who feel governments aren’t listening to them. It’s across the political spectrum. We need governments that not only listen, but actually act on the concerns and wishes of citizens.

          I’m sure people from across the political spectrum are pissed off because of governments trying to ram new powerlines down their throats to the tune of $20 billion and they have no say in the matter. We’re not going to debate that?

          Or maybe the Alberta government will close down something like Alberta Hospital, while claiming that these people will be taken care of in the community. We know damn well what happens in these situations because it happened in the 80s & 90s. Costs are “externalized.” Alberta citizens are the ones who’ll pay the price in crime and misery, not to mention increased insurance costs.

          It’s no problem to hand out $2 billion to private companies for carbon capture and storage, but they can’t spend a few million on an institution like Alberta Hospital?

          We need governments who have the vision to see the correct course of action because it’s the best thing for Albertans. I don’t care if it conflicts with their ideology or if provincial lobbyists don’t agree. That’s not what we have now.

          As for policy, I would disagree that citizens aren’t concerned about policy. What seems to continue to happen federally and provincially is that we elect governments that initially seem to reflect the sensibilities of citizens, but then the hidden agenda starts.

          I would really like to see a government that has a real plan and doesn’t fly by the seat of its pants. Alberta governments seem to govern more like pinball machines, bouncing from one issue to the next.

  5. Well thanks Alain, I haven’t been subject to such an insult for a very long time.

    All the same, thanks for the link.

    Be sure to check out the rest of my blog; you might actually get a better idea of what I am all about.

    Cheers

    1. Hi Jane,

      You can take it as an insult though it wasn’t intended that way. I understand how the game is played and every party does it. Doesn’t make it any better as far as I’m concerned.

      I do plan on reading more of your blog. You may have noticed that I agreed with you regarding transparency in party constitutional issues. :) I think it’s a valid point.

      On the other hand, it appears you’re a bookkeeper by trade? Did you handle finances for the Wildrose Alliance? I hadn’t seen any indication of what your role was with them. I’m sure you could shed some light on Danielle Smith’s leadership campaign contributors.

      What do you think about my comment regarding transparency on this issue? If you’re no longer a party official, I understand that you may not be able to release that data. As a private citizen I’m sure we would all like to hear your opinion on whether or not she should release that information and why, or why not.

      Thanks for your comment,
      Alain

      1. Thanks for replying and giving me a heads up on Twitter.

        I just want it to be clear, that my personal blog is just that; personal. There is no connection to any party or initiative or as Chris LB refers to it a “WAP misinformation campaign.”

        I was the CFO for the WAP up until January 2009. (over a year ago now). I did operate a bookkeeping business before I got involved with the party and I am currently trying to rebuild that business… so if you know anyone looking…. wink, wink, nudge, nudge….LOL

        I have no more knowledge of Danielle’s campaign contributors than the general public. While I don’t share your concern over “where” they came from; I do agree they should be public and transparent.

        I agree with Lorne Gibson’s recommendations (at least I think it was one of his); that Leadership races be subject to the same reportiing guidelines of parties and candidates who run in general elections. I would even go a step further and suggest there should be a full accounting of the expenditures. I think this would speak volumes as to where one stands on the fiscal spectrum.

        Thanks Alain, have a good evening.

        1. Hi Jane,

          Thanks for coming back and making a few things clear.

          I agree with you that all party related expenditures should be fully transparent. It would be one step towards full accountability. I just don’t understand why some people have a problem with that. I don’t need to see personal financial details, of course.

          (I think I need a button that will allow people to be notified via email of responses. Must be a widget for that!)

  6. Alain,
    I can appreciate you trying to stand up for the Alberta Party at the expense of the Wildrose. This is the typical game of the political culture, and make no mistake the Alberta Party has already joined this game with their comments.
    At this point I can only see that the Alberta party executive have taken the reins and made the decision to suspend policies and make changes to their constitution. I think the key word here is suspend as none of this will amount to a hill of beans if it does not pass the vote at their next AGM. Right now it is a party with no principles, policies, or constitution. I realize that the idea is to redo them all, however the party is still bound to pass them at the next AGM. This will be an interesting time to me. Right now they are of no threat as it is a party that does not stand for anything, but are willing to discuss it.
    Nice post by the way

    1. I prefer to look at it as giving the Alberta Party the benefit of the doubt until we can see what develops from their process. I’ve given the Wildrose Alliance their chance as I do with every other political party. I have some concerns about transparency and some policy issues with WAP. Secrecy always concerns me.

      I agree it will be interesting to see how it plays out in terms of implementing the ideas, policies and constitution they derive from the Big Listen.

      While they may not be a threat at this point, if the party gets its act together quickly, if their platform is in the same ballpark as the Liberals or NDP, in my opinion, they could be a legitimate threat.

      As I said, whether I vote for them or not remains to be seen. I tend to be distrustful of all political parties.

      “All secrets are deep. All secrets become dark. That’s in the nature of secrets.”
      Cory Doctorow,
      Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town, 2005

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