Pints & Politics: Debating name changes in Alberta

The other night I went out to Pints and Politics at Brewster’s Pub in Edmonton, a gathering of people interested in talking about politics.

It was pretty good. I had the opportunity to meet a few MLAs (Dave Taylor – Alberta Party, Kent Hehr – Liberal Party, and Jonathan Denis – Conservative Party) and chat with people from those parties as well. I was surprised I didn’t meet anyone from the Wild Rose Party, but I didn’t meet everyone there either.

What I so often discover from casual, in-person discussions about politics is that our differences usually aren’t that far apart.

I prefer these types of discussions to online political discussions. The trolls usually don’t come out to these events, preferring the perceived anonymity they possess behind their computer screens and pseudonyms.

What’s in a name?

I had fun prodding a few of the Alberta Liberals in the room. We got onto the topic of changing the name of the provincial Liberal party, which apparently has little connection to the federal party.

I still find it odd that the Alberta Liberal party is so stuck on keeping the name, when it’s so obvious that it’s the biggest impediment to their political success in this province right now (leaving aside the issues of ineffective leadership).

The provincial Conservatives love to bring up the 1980s National Energy Program, signed by Conservative premier Peter Lougheed. When the NEP is mentioned, there’s a collective knee-jerk around the province, and it’s never good for the Liberals, despite the fact the provincial Liberals probably had absolutely nothing to do with it. The truth has nothing to do with the issue.

The rationale I heard was that the Alberta Liberals are worried their stream of donations would dry up if they were to change their name. I countered that it would likely increase as they tapped new sources of donations.

I have to respect the Alberta Liberals for manning the helm of their swamped ship to the bitter end, but a touch of Machiavellian sensibility wouldn’t hurt. Would a name change mean a complete abandonment of their principles? Absolutely not. Why would it?

I heard something interesting too, that nobody has ever presented a motion at a party convention to change the party name. About time it happened, but it won’t be me doing it. So, what should the name be?

The Prairie Party

I thought this would make sense, because the Alberta Liberals, according to what I heard, are a truly provincial party with few ties federally. It’s the same in B.C., where the B.C. Liberals are really Conservatives and have few real ties to the federal party.

Albertans, and here I’m stereotyping a little, tend to be quite patriotic about their province, and a name like the Prairie Party could be appreciate by many in the province, particularly rural voters. I have never seen a province where its residents feel so strongly about their home.

My thought is that if you’re truly convinced your principles are worth fighting for and should be adopted here, why would something like a name change be so problematic? It is puzzling. In fact, it’s truly odd, considering so many political parties would be willing to force their mothers to work in a Chinese sweat shop if it meant they could get into power.

In some ways you have to respect that kind of conviction, but in other ways, it’s sort of dumb. Apparently Einstein was quoted as saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I also came up with a cute slogan that captures why the name change should happen: change the name and you change the game.

Looking at it practically, a good portion of the voters in the province have grey hair, like it or not. Voter turnout here is pathetically low, but you can count on seniors to get out and do their civic duty. They don’t tend to be swing voters either. They’re loyal and often conservative. They also remember the NEP, rightly or wrongly, so if the Liberals (with that name) expect to form government here, it’s likely not going to be until the baby boomers are dead and gone.

The Saskatchewan Party

I used these guys as a good example for the Alberta Liberals to follow. They formed in 1997 and 10 years later they were in power. There’s so much wrapped up in a name and such a name has broad, subconscious appeal to Saskatchewan residents, obviously.

This is why the Alberta Party has a positive future ahead of it, no matter what their policies, no matter what they do, no matter who the leader is. The party has the right name. It’s all about the brand. That’s not knocking the positive things the Alberta Party is up to, but having the right name gives them a leg up on their competition. Right out of the gate they have an advantage.

There’s been some public bickering about parties merging, but the Alberta Party would be crazy to do it, if it meant adopting the Liberal Party name. If anything, the Liberals should merge with the Alberta Party and adopt their name.

The one thing the Liberals could do to counter the Alberta Party brand is to come up with one which symbolizes Alberta, and that’s the Prairie Party. I’m not going to launch into some poetic description of how the name represents the province, it just does.

The real question is, how long are the Liberals going to sit on the sidelines of Alberta politics as other parties pass them by? My prediction is that the Alberta Party will form the official opposition not after this election, but the election after that (sorry Wild Rose Party). Perhaps when the Alberta Liberals are down to their last member in the Legislature, they’ll consider a name change, but by then it will be too late.

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.